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Full text of "Old Christmas : from the Sketch book of Washington Irving"






WASHW&TQN IRVING 







THE LIBRARY 

OF 

THE UNIVERSITY 
OF CALIFORNIA 



BEQUEST 
OF 

Mrs* Marian Hooker 



FIFTH EDITION 




"The old family mansion, partly thrown in deep shadow, and partly lit up by the cold ;moonshine 

Frontispiece. 



r London. 
Macmillan&Co 










But is old, old, good old Christmas gone? 
Nothing but the hair of his good, gray, old 
head and beard left ? Well, I will have that, 
seeing that I cannot have more of him. 

Hue and Cry after Christmas. 






tOAN STACK 

GIFT 




BEFORE the remembrance of the good old times, 
so fast passing, should have entirely passed away, 
the present artist, R. Caldecott, and engraver, 
James D. Cooper, planned to illustrate Washing- 
ton Irving's " Old Christmas" in this manner. 
Their primary idea was to carry out the principle 
of the Sketch Book, by incorporating the designs 
with the text. Throughout they have worked 
together and con amore. With what success the 
public must decide. 

NOVEMBER 1875. 



967 




CHRISTMAS 

THE STAGE COACH 

CHRISTMAS EVE 

CHRISTMAS DAY 

THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 






PAGE 

I 



75 
117 





DESIGNED BY RANDOLPH CALDECOTT, 



ARRANGED AND ENGRAVED BY J. D. COOPER. 



THE OLD MANSION BY MOONLIGHT Frontispiece. 
TITLE-PAGE. 

PAGE 

ANCIENT FIREPLACE ...... iv 

HEADING TO PREFACE v 

HEADING TO CONTENTS ...... vii 

TAILPIECE TO CONTENTS ..... vii 

HEADING TO LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS ix 

TAILPIECE TO LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS xiv 

" THE POOR FROM THE GATES WERE NOT CHIDDEN " xvi 

HEADING TO CHRISTMAS. i 



X LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

PAGE 

THE MOULDERING TOWER 2 

CHRISTMAS ANTHEM IN CATHEDRAL ... 4 

THE WANDERER'S RETURN 5 

" NATURE LIES DESPOILED OF EVERY CHARM". . 6 

"THE HONEST FACE OF HOSPITALITY" ... 8 

"THE SHY GLANCE OF LOVE" .... 8 

OLD HALL OF CASTLE . . . . . . 10 

THE GREAT OAKEN GALLERY . . . . 12 

THE WAITS ........ 14 

"AND SIT DOWN DARKLING AND REPINING" . . 16 

THE STAGE COACH 19 

THE THREE SCHOOLBOYS . . . . . 20 

THE OLD ENGLISH STAGE COACHMAN . . . 23 
" HE THROWS DOWN THE REINS WITH SOMETHING OF 

AN AIR" 25 

THE STABLE IMITATORS . . . . . . 26 

THE PUBLIC HOUSE . . . . . . 28 

THE HOUSEMAID . . . . . . . 29 

THE SMITHY 30 

"NOW OR NEVER MUST MUSIC BE IN TUNE " . . 32 

THE COUNTRY MAID . . . . . . 32 

THE OLD SERVANT AND BANTAM . . . . 34 

A NEAT COUNTRY SEAT 35 




LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS XI 

PAGE 

INN KITCHEN . . . , . . . 37 

THE RECOGNITION. TAILPIECE .... 40 

THE POST-CHAISE . . . . . . . 43 

THE LODGE GATE . 46 

THE OLD PRIMITIVE DAME ..... 46 

" THE LITTLE DOGS AND ALL " . . 49 

MISTLETOE 52 

THE SQUIRE'S RECEPTION . . . . . 53 

THE FAMILY PARTY 54 

TOYS 55 

THE YULE LOG 57 

THE SQUIRE IN HIS HEREDITARY CHAIR . . 58 

THE FAMILY PLATE ...... 60 

MASTER SIMON 61 

YOUNG GIRL. ....... 62 

HER MOTHER 62 

THE OLD HARPER ...... 65 

MASTER SIMON DANCING 67 

THE OXONIAN AND HIS MAIDEN AUNT ... 68 

THE YOUNG OFFICER WITH HIS GUITAR. . . 70 

THE FAIR JULIA .... 72 

ASLEEP ......... 74 

CHRISTMAS DAY 77 



Xll LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

PAGE 

THE CHILDREN'S CAROL 78 

ROBIN ON THE MOUNTAIN ASH .... 80 

MASTER SIMON AS CLERK 81 

BREAKFAST . . . . . . . 84 

VIEWING THE DOGS . . . . . . 85 

MASTER SIMON GOING TO CHURCH. . . . 88 

THE VILLAGE CHURCH . . . . . . 91 

THE PARSON 93 

REBUKING THE SEXTON . . . . . . 95 

EFFIGY OF A WARRIOR . . . . . . 96 

MASTER SIMON AT CHURCH 97 

THE VILLAGE CHOIR . . . . . . 97 

THE VILLAGE TAILOR 98 

AN OLD CHORISTER . . . . . .100 

THE SERMON . . . . . . . 101 

CHURCHYARD GREETINGS . . . . .104 

FROSTY THRALDOM OF WINTER . . . . 106 

MERRY OLD ENGLISH GAMES . . . . 109 

THE POOR AT HOME in 

VILLAGE ANTICS . . . . . . .112 

TASTING THE SQUIRE'S ALE 113 

THE WIT OF THE VILLAGE . . . . .115 
COQUETTISH HOUSEMAID 116 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS Xlll 

PAGE 

ANTIQUE SIDEBOARD 119 

THE COOK WITH THE ROLLING-PIN . . . 120 
THE WARRIOR'S ARMS . . . . . .121 

" FLAGONS, CANS, CUPS, BEAKERS, GOBLETS, BASINS, 

AND EWERS" 122 

THE CHRISTMAS DINNER . . . . .123 

A HIGH ROMAN NOSE 124 

THE PARSON SAID GRACE . . . . .125 

THE BOAR'S HEAD 126 

THE FAT-HEADED OLD GENTLEMAN . . . 129 

PEACOCK PIE 130 

THE WASSAIL BOWL 132 

THE SQUIRE'S TOAST . . . . . .134 

THE LONG-WINDED JOKER 136 

LONG STORIES . . . . . .138 

THE PARSON AND THE PRETTY MILKMAID . . 139 
MASTER SIMON GROWS MAUDLIN . . . .140 

THE BLUE-EYED ROMP . . . . . .143 

THE PARSON'S TALE 144 

THE SEXTON'S REBUFF 146 

THE CRUSADER'S NIGHT RIDE . . . .148 
ANCIENT CHRISTMAS AND DAME MINCE-PIE . . 151 
ROBIN HOOD AND MAID MARIAN . . . . 152 



XIV 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 



THE MINUET .... 

ROAST BEEF, PLUM PUDDING, AND MISRULE . 

THE CHRISTMAS DANCE IN COSTUME 

" CHUCKLING AND RUBBING HIS HANDS " 

" ECHOING BACK THE JOVIALITY OF LONG-DEPARTED 

YEARS " 

RETROSPECT ........ 



153 

1 S4 

155 

157 

159 





A man might then behold 

At Christmas, in each hall 
Good fires to curb the cold, 

And meat for great and small. 
The neighbours were friendly bidden, 

And all had welcome true, 
The poor from the gates were not chidden, 

When this old cap was new. 

Old Song. 




HERE is nothing in England that exer- 
cises a more delightful spell over my 
imagination than the lingerings of the 
holiday customs and rural games of 
former times. They recall the pictures 
my fancy used to draw in the May morn- 
ing of life, when as yet I only knew the world 
through books, and believed it to be all that poets 
had painted it ; and they bring with them the 
flavour of those honest days of yore, in which, 
perhaps with equal fallacy, I am apt to think the 
world was more home-bred, social, and joyous than 
at present. I regret to say that they are daily 
growing more and more faint, being gradually 

B 



CHRISTMAS 



worn away by time, but still more obliterated by 
modern fashion. They resemble those pictur- 
esque morsels of Gothic architecture which we 




see crumbling in various parts of the country, 
partly dilapidated by the waste of ages, and partly 
lost in the additions and alterations of latter days. 
Poetry, however, clings with cherishing fondness 
about the rural game and holiday revel, from 



CHRISTMAS 3 

which it has derived so many of its themes as 
the ivy winds its rich foliage about the Gothic 
arch and mouldering tower, gratefully repaying 
their support by clasping together their tottering 
remains, and, as it were, embalming them in 
verdure. 

Of all the old festivals, however, that of 
Christmas awakens the strongest and most heart- 
felt associations. There is a tone of solemn and 
sacred feeling that blends with our conviviality, 
and lifts the spirit to a state of hallowed and 
elevated enjoyment. The services of the church 
about this season are extremely tender and in- 
spiring. They dwell on the beautiful story of the 
origin of our faith, and the pastoral scenes that 
accompanied its announcement. They gradually 
increase in fervour and pathos during the season 
of Advent, until they break forth in full jubilee on 
the morning that brought peace and good-will 
to men, I do not know a grander effect of 
music on the moral feelings than to hear the 



CHRISTMAS 




full choir and the 
pealing organ per- 
forming a Christ- 
mas anthem in a 
cathedral, and fill- 
ing every part of 
the vast pile with 
triumphant har- 
mony. 

It is a beautiful 
arrangement, also, 
derived from days 
of yore, that this 
festival, which com- 
memorates the an- 
nouncement of the 
religion of peace 
and love, has been 
made the season 
for gathering to- 
gether of family 




CHRISTMAS 5 

connections, and drawing closer again those bands 

of kindred hearts which the cares and pleasures 

and sorrows of the world are continually operating 

to cast loose ; 

of calling back 

the children of 

a family who 

have launched 

forth in life, 

and wandered 

widely asunder, 

once more to 

assemble about 

the paternal hearth, 

that rallying-place of the affections, there to grow 

young and loving again among the endearing 

mementoes of childhood. 

There is something in the very season of the 
year that gives a charm to the festivity of Christ- 
mas. At other times we derive a great portion 
of our pleasures from the mere beauties of nature. 




6 CHRISTMAS 

Our feelings sally forth and dissipate themselves 
over the sunny landscape, and we ''live abroad 
and everywhere." The song of the bird, the 
murmur of the stream, the breathing fragrance 
of spring, the soft voluptuousness of summer, the 
golden pomp of autumn ; earth with its mantle 
of refreshing green, and heaven with its deep 
delicious blue and its cloudy magnificence, all fill 
us with mute but exquisite delight, and we revel 
in the luxury of mere sensation. But in the 
depth of winter, when nature lies despoiled of 
every charm, and wrapped in her shroud of 




sheeted snow, we turn for our gratifications to 
moral sources. The dreariness and desolation 
of the landscape, the short gloomy days and 



CHRISTMAS 7 

darksome nights, while they circumscribe our 
wanderings, shut in our feelings also from 
rambling abroad, and make us more keenly dis- 
posed for the pleasures of the social circle. Our 
thoughts are more concentrated ; our friendly 
sympathies more aroused. We feel more sensibly 
the charm of each other's society, and are brought 
more closely together by dependence on each 
other for enjoyment. Heart calleth unto heart ; 
and we draw our pleasures from the deep wells 
of living kindness, which lie in the quiet recesses 
of our bosoms ; and which, when resorted to, 
furnish forth the pure element of domestic 
felicity. 

The pitchy gloom without makes the heart 
dilate on entering the room filled with the glow 
and warmth of the evening fire. The ruddy 
blaze diffuses an artificial summer and sunshine 
through the room, and lights up each counte- 
nance into a kindlier welcome. Where does the 
honest face of hospitality expand into a broader 



CHRISTMAS 




and more cordial smile where is the shy glance 
of love more sweetly eloquent than by the 




winter fireside ? and as the hollow blast of wintry 
wind rushes through the hall, claps the distant 



CHRISTMAS 

door, whistles about the casement, and rumbles 
down the chimney, w r hat can be more grateful 
than that feeling of sober and sheltered security 
with which we look round upon the comfortable 
chamber and the scene of domestic hilarity ? 

The English, from the great prevalence of 
rural habits throughout every class of society, 
have always been fond of those festivals and 
holidays which agreeably interrupt the stillness 
of country life ; and they were, in former days, 
particularly observant of the religious and social 
rites of Christmas. It is inspiring to read even 
the dry details which some antiquarians have 
given of the quaint humours, the burlesque 
pageants, the complete abandonment to mirth 
and good-fellowship, with which this festival was 
celebrated. It seemed to throw open every door, 
and unlock every heart. It brought the peasant 
and the peer together, and blended all ranks in 
one warm generous flow of joy and kindness. 
The old halls of castles and manor-houses re- 



10 



CHRISTMAS 



W 



sounded with the harp and the Christmas carol, 
and their ample boards groaned under the 
weight of hospitality. Even the poorest 
cottage welcomed the festive sea- 
/I son with green decorations of 

bay and holly the cheerful 
fire glanced its rays through 
the lattice, inviting the pass- 




enger to raise the 
latch, and join the 
gossip knot huddled 
round the hearth, 
beguiling the long 
evening with le- 
gendary jokes and oft-told Christmas tales. 

One of the least pleasing effects of modern 
refinement is the havoc it has made among the 
hearty old holiday customs. It has completely 
taken off the sharp touchings and spirited reliefs 
of these embellishments of life, and has worn 
down society into a more smooth and polished, 



CHRISTMAS 11 

but certainly a less characteristic surface. Many 
of the games and ceremonials of Christmas have 
entirely disappeared, and, like the sherris sack 
of old Falstaff, are become matters of specula- 
tion and dispute among commentators. They 
flourished in times full of spirit and lustihood, 
when men enjoyed life roughly, but heartily and 
vigorously ; times wild and picturesque, which 
have furnished poetry with its richest materials, 
and the drama with its most attractive variety of 
characters and manners. The world has become 
more worldly. There is more of dissipation, and 
less of enjoyment. Pleasure has expanded into 
a broader, but a shallower stream, and has for- 
saken many of those deep and quiet channels 
where it flowed sweetly through the calm bosom 
of domestic life. Society has acquired a more 
enlightened and elegant tone ; but it has lost 
many of its strong local peculiarities, its home- 
bred feelings, its honest fireside delights. The 
traditionary customs of golden-hearted antiquity, 



12 



CHRISTMAS 



its feudal hospitalities, and lordly wassailings, 
have passed away with the baronial castles and 
stately manor-houses in which they were cele- 




brated. They comported with the shadowy 
hall, the great oaken gallery, and the tapes- 
tried parlour, but are unfitted to the light showy 






CHRISTMAS 13 



saloons and gay drawing-rooms of the modern 
villa. 

Shorn, however, as it is, of its ancient and 
festive honours, Christmas is still a period of 
delightful excitement in England. It is gratify- 
ing to see that home-feeling completely aroused 
which seems to hold so powerful a place in every 
English bosom. The preparations making on 
every side for the social board that is again to 
unite friends and kindred ; the presents of good 
cheer passing and repassing, those tokens of 
regard, and quickeners of kind feelings ; the ever- 
greens distributed about houses and churches, 
emblems of peace and gladness ; all these have 
the most pleasing effect in producing fond associa- 
tions, and kindling benevolent sympathies. Even 
the sound of the waits, rude as may be their 
minstrelsy, breaks upon the mid-watches of a 
winter night with the effect of perfect harmony. 
As I have been awakened by them in that still 
and solemn hour, " when deep sleep falleth upon 



14 



CHRISTMAS 



man," I have listened with a hushed delight, 
and connecting them with the 
sacred and joyous occasion, have 
almost -fancied them into an- 
other celestial choir, an- 
nouncing peace and 
good-will to man- 
kind. 

How de- 
lightfully the 
imagination, 
when wrought 
upon by these 
moral influ- 
ences, turns 

everything to melody and beauty : The very 
crowing of the cock, who is sometimes heard in 
the profound repose of the country, " telling the 
night watches to his feathery dames," was thought 
by the common people to announce the approach 
of this sacred festival : 




CHRISTMAS 15 

" Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes 
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated, 
This bird of dawning singeth all night long : 
And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad ; 
The nights are wholesome then no planets strike, 
No fairy takes, no witch hath power to charm, 
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time." 

Amidst the general call to happiness, the bustle 
of the spirits, and stir of the affections, which 
prevail at this period, what bosom can remain 
insensible ? It is, indeed, the season of re- 
generated feeling the season for kindling, not 
merely the fire of hospitality in the hall, but the 
genial flame of charity in the heart. 

The scene of early love again rises green to 
memory beyond the sterile waste of years ; and 
the idea of home, fraught with the fragrance of 
home-dwelling joys, re-animates the drooping 
spirit, as the Arabian breeze will sometimes 
waft the freshness of the distant fields to the 
weary pilgrim of the desert. 

Stranger and sojourner as I am in the land 
though for me no social hearth may blaze, no 



16 



CHRISTMAS 



hospitable roof throw open its doors, nor the 
warm grasp of friendship welcome me at the 
threshold yet I feel the influence of the season 
beaming into my soul from the happy looks of 
those around me. Surely happiness is reflective, 
like the light of heaven ; and every countenance, 
bright with smiles, and glowing with innocent 
enjoyment, is a mirror transmitting to others the 

rays of a supreme and 
ever-shining benevolence. 
He who can turn churl- 
ishly away from contem- 
plating the felicity of his 
fellow-beings, and sit down 
darkling and repining in 
his loneliness when all 
around is joyful, may have 
his moments of strong excitement and selfish 
gratification, but he wants the genial and social 
sympathies which constitute the charm of a merry 
Christmas. 





Omne bene 

Sine poena 
Tempus est ludendi ; 

Venit hora, 

Absque mora, 
Libros deponendi. 

Old Holiday School Song. 




THE STAGE COACH 

|N the preceding paper I have made some 
general observations on the Christmas 
festivities of England, and am tempted to 
illustrate them by some anecdotes of a 
Christmas passed in the country ; in perus- 
ing which I would most courteously invite my 
reader to lay aside the austerity of wisdom, and 
to put on that genuine holiday spirit which is 
tolerant of folly, and anxious only for amusement. 
In the course of a December tour in York- 
shire, I rode for a long distance in one of the 
public coaches, on the day preceding Christmas. 



20 



THE STAGE COACH 



The coach was crowded, both inside and out, with 
passengers, who, by their talk, seemed principally 
bound to the mansions of relations or friends to 
eat the Christmas dinner; It was loaded also 
with hampers of game, and baskets and boxes of 
delicacies ; and hares hung dangling their long 
ears about the coachman's box, presents from 

distant friends for the 
impending feast. I 
had three fine rosy- 
cheeked schoolboys 
for my fellow-passen- 
gers inside, full of 
the buxom health and 
manly spirit which I have observed in the child- 
ren of this country. They were returning home 
for the holidays in high glee, and promising 
themselves a world of enjoyment. It was delight- 
ful to hear the gigantic plans of pleasure of the 
little rogues, and the impracticable feats they were 
to perform during their six weeks' emancipation 




THE STAGE COACH 21 

from the abhorred thraldom of book, birch, and 
pedagogue. They were full of anticipations of 
the meeting with the family and household, down 
to the very cat and dog ; and of the joy they were 
to give their little sisters by the presents with 
which their pockets were crammed ; but the 
meeting to which they seemed to look forward 
with the greatest impatience was with Bantam, 
which I found to be a pony, and, according to 
their talk, possessed of more virtues than any 
steed since the days of Bucephalus. How 
he could trot ! how he could run ! and then 
such leaps as he would take there was not 
a hedge in the whole country that he could 
not clear. 

They were under the particular guardianship 
of the coachman, to whom, whenever an oppor- 
tunity presented, they addressed a host of ques- 
tions, and pronounced him one of the best fellows 
in the whole world. Indeed, I could not but 
notice the more than ordinary air of bustle and 



THE STAGE COACH 

importance of the coachman, who wore his hat a 
little on one side, and had a large bunch of Christ- 
mas greens stuck in the button-hole of his coat. 
He is always a personage full of mighty care 
and business, but he is particularly so during this 
season, having so many commissions to execute in 
consequence of the great interchange of presents. 
And here, perhaps, it may not be unacceptable 
to my untravelled readers, to have a sketch that 
may serve as a general representation of 
this very numerous and important class of 
functionaries, who have a dress, a manner, a 
language, an air, peculiar to themselves, and 
prevalent throughout the fraternity ; so that, 
wherever an English stage -coachman may be 
seen, he cannot be mistaken for one of any other 
craft or mystery. 

He has commonly a broad, full face, curiously 
mottled with red, as if the blood had been forced 
by hard feeding into every vessel of the skin ; he 
is swelled into jolly dimensions by frequent pota- 




THE STAGE COACH 



23 



tions of malt liquors, and his bulk is still fur- 
ther increased by a multiplicity of coats, in 
which he is buried like a cauliflower, the upper 




one reaching to his heels. He wears a broad- 
brimmed, low-crowned hat ; a huge roll of coloured 
handkerchief about his neck, knowingly knotted 



24 THE STAGE COACH 

and tucked in at the bosom ; and has in sum- 
mer-time a large bouquet of flowers in his 
button-hole ; the present, most probably, of some 
enamoured country lass. His waistcoat is com- 
monly of some bright colour, striped ; and his 
small-clothes extend far below the knees, to meet 
a pair of jockey boots which reach about half-way 
up his legs. 

All this costume is maintained with much pre- 
cision ; he has a pride in having his clothes of 
excellent materials ; and, notwithstanding the 
seeming grossness of his appearance, there is still 
discernible that neatness and propriety of person, 
which is almost inherent in an Englishman. He 
enjoys great consequence and consideration along 
the road ; has frequent conferences with the vil- 
lage housewives, who look upon him as a man of 
great trust and dependence ; and he seems to 
have a good understanding with every bright- 
eyed country lass. The moment he arrives where 
the horses are to be changed, he throws down the 




THE STAGE COACH 



25 



reins with something of an air, and abandons the 
cattle to the care of the ostler ; his duty being 




merely to drive from one stage to another. 
When off the box, his hands are thrust in the 
pockets of his greatcoat, and he rolls about the 
inn-yard with an air of the most absolute lordli- 



26 



THE STAGE COACH 



ness. Here he is generally surrounded by an 
admiring throng of ostlers, stable-boys, shoe-blacks, 




and those nameless hangers-on that infest inns 
and taverns, and run errands, and do all kinds of 




THE STAGE COACH 27 

odd jobs, for the privilege of battening on the 
drippings of the kitchen and the leakage of the 
tap-room. These all look up to him as to an 
oracle ; treasure up his cant phrases ; echo his 
opinions about horses and other topics of jockey 
lore ; and, above all, endeavour to imitate his air 
and carriage. Every ragamuffin that has a coat 
to his back thrusts his hands in the pockets, 
rolls in his gait, talks slang, and is an embryo 
Coachey. 

Perhaps it might be owing to the pleasing 
serenity that reigned in my own mind, that I 
fancied I saw cheerfulness in every countenance 
throughout the journey. A stage coach, however, 
carries animation always with it, and puts the 
world in motion as it whirls along. The horn 
sounded at the entrance of a village, produces a 
general bustle. Some hasten forth to meet 
friends ; some with bundles and bandboxes to 
secure places, and in the hurry of the moment can 
hardly take leave of the group that accompanies 



28 



THE STAGE COACH 



them. In the meantime, the coachman has a 
world of small commissions to execute. Some- 
times he delivers a hare or pheasant ; sometimes 
jerks a small parcel or newspaper to the door of a 




public-house ; and sometimes, with knowing leer 
and words of sly import, hands to some half- 
blushing, half-laughing housemaid an odd-shaped 



THE STAGE COACH 



29 




billet-doux from some rustic admirer. As the 
coach rattles through the village, every one runs 
to the window, and you have glances on every 
side of fresh country faces, and blooming giggling 
girls. At the corners are assembled juntas of 
village idlers and wise men, who take their sta- 
tions there for the important purpose of seeing 
company pass ; but the sagest knot is generally 
at the blacksmith's, to whom the passing of the 
coach is an event fruitful of much speculation. 



30 



THE STAGE COACH 




The smith, with the horse's heel in his lap, pauses 
as the vehicle whirls by ; the Cyclops round the 
anvil suspend their ringing hammers, and suffer 
the iron to grow cool ; and the sooty spectre in 
brown paper cap, labouring at the bellows, leans 
on the handle for a moment, and permits the 



THE STAGE COACH 31 

asthmatic engine to heave a long-drawn sigh, 
while he glares through the murky smoke and 
sulphureous gleams of the smithy. 

Perhaps the impending holiday might have 
given a more than usual animation to the coun- 
try, for it seemed to me as if everybody was in 
good looks and good spirits. Game, poultry, and 
other luxuries of the table, were in brisk circula- 
tion in the villages ; the grocers', butchers', and 
fruiterers' shops were thronged with customers. 
The housewives were stirring briskly about, put- 
ting their dwellings in order; and the glossy 
branches of holly, with their bright red berries, 
began to appear at the windows. The scene 
brought to mind an old writer's account of Christ- 
mas preparations: " Now capons and hens, 
besides turkeys, geese, and ducks, with beef and 
mutton must all die ; for in twelve days a multi- 
tude of people will not be fed with a little. Now 
plums and spice, sugar and honey, square it 
among pies and broth. Now or never must 



32 



THE STAGE COACH 




music be in tune, for the youth must dance 
and sing to get them a heat, while the aged 
sit by the fire. The country maid leaves half 





THE STAGE COACH 33 

her market, and must be sent again, if she 
forgets a pack of cards on Christmas eve. Great 
is the contention of Holly and Ivy, whether 
master or dame wears the breeches. Dice and 
cards benefit the butler ; and if the cook do not 
lack wit, he will sweetly lick his fingers." 

I was roused from this fit of luxurious medita- 
tion by a shout from my little travelling com- 
panions. They had been looking out of the 
coach-windows for the last few miles, recognising 
every tree and cottage as they approached home, 
and now there was a general burst of joy 
" There's John! and there's old Carlo! and 
there's Bantam ! " cried the happy little rogues, 
clapping their hands. 

At the end of a lane there was an old sober- 
looking servant in livery waiting for them : he 
was accompanied by a superannuated pointer, 
and by the redoubtable Bantam, a little old rat 
of a pony, with a shaggy mane and long rusty 
tail, who stood dozing quietly by the roadside, 



34 



THE STAGE COACH 



little dreaming of the bustling times that awaited 
him. 

I was pleased to see the fondness with which 
the little fellows leaped about 
the steady old footman, and 
hugged the pointer, who wrig- 
gled his whole body for joy. 
But Bantam was the great 
object of interest ; all wanted 
to mount at once ; and 
it was with some diffi- 
culty that John 
ranged that 
they should 
ride by 
turns, and 
the eldest 
should ride 
first. 

Off they set at last ; one on the pony, with 
dog bounding and barking before him, and 




the 
the 




THE STAGE COACH 



35 



others holding John's hands ; both talking at once, 
and overpowering him by questions about home, 
and with school anecdotes. I looked after them 
with a feeling in which I do not know whether 
pleasure or melancholy predominated : for I was 
reminded of those days when, like them, I had 
neither known care nor sorrow, and a holiday 
was the summit of earthly felicity. We stopped 
a few moments afterwards to water the horses, 
and on resuming our route, a turn of the road 
brought us in sight of a neat country-seat. I 
could just distinguish the forms of a lady and 




36 THE STAGE COACH 

two young girls in the portico, and I saw my 
little comrades, with Bantam, Carlo, and old John, 
trooping along the carriage road. I leaned out 
of the coach-window, in hopes of witnessing the 
happy meeting, but a grove of trees shut it from 
my sight. 

In the evening we reached a village where I 
had determined to pass the night. As we drove 
into the great gateway of the inn, I saw on one 
side the light of a rousing kitchen fire, beaming 
through a window. I entered, and admired, for 
the hundredth time, that picture of convenience, 
neatness, and broad honest enjoyment, the kit- 
chen of an English inn. It was of spacious 
dimensions, hung round with copper and tin 
vessels highly polished, and decorated here and 
there with a Christmas green. Hams, tongues, 
and flitches of bacon, were suspended from the 
ceiling ; a smoke-jack made its ceaseless clanking 
beside the fireplace, and a clock ticked in one 
corner. A well-scoured deal table extended along 



THE STAGE COACH 



one side of the kitchen, with a cold round of beef, 
and other hearty viands upon it, over which two 




foaming tankards of ale seemed mounting guard. 
Travellers of inferior order were preparing to 



38 THE STAGE COACH 

attack this stout repast, while others sat smoking 
and gossiping over their ale on two high-backed 
oaken seats beside the fire. Trim housemaids 
were hurrying backwards" and forwards under the 
directions of a fresh, bustling landlady ; but still 
seizing an occasional moment to exchange a 
flippant word, and have a rallying laugh, with 
the group round the fire. The scene completely 
realised Poor Robin's humble idea of the comforts 
of mid-winter. 

Now trees their leafy hats do bare, 
To reverence Winter's silver hair ; 
A handsome hostess, merry host, 
A pot of ale now and a toast, 
Tobacco and a good coal fire, 
Are things this season doth require.* 

I had not been long at the inn when a post- 
chaise drove up to the door. A young gentleman 
stepped out, and by the light of the lamps I caught 
a glimpse of a countenance which I thought I 
knew. I moved forward to get a nearer view, 

* Poor Robin's Almanack, 1684. 



THE STAGE COACH 39 

when his eye caught mine. I was not mistaken ; 
it was Frank Bracebridge, a sprightly good- 
humoured young fellow, with whom I had once 
travelled on the Continent. Our meeting was 
extremely cordial ; for the countenance of an old 
fellow-traveller always brings up the recollection 
of a thousand pleasant scenes, odd adventures, 
and excellent jokes. To discuss all these in a 
transient interview at an inn was impossible ; and 
finding that I was not pressed for time, and was 
merely making a tour- of observation, he insisted 
that I should give him a day or two at his father's 
country-seat, to which he was going to pass the 
holidays, and which lay at a few miles' distance. 
" It is better than eating a solitary Christmas 
dinner at an inn," said he; "and I can assure 
you of a hearty welcome in something of the 
old-fashion style." His reasoning was cogent; 
and I must confess the preparation I had seen for 
universal festivity and social enjoyment had made 
me feel a little impatient of my loneliness. I 



40 



THE STAGE COACH 



closed, therefore, at once with his invitation : the 
chaise drove up to the door; and in a few moments 
I was on my way to the family mansion of the 
Bracebridges. 





Saint Francis and Saint Benedight 
Blesse this house from wicked wight ; 
From the night-mare and the goblin, 
That is hight good-fellow Robin ; 
Keep it from all evil spirits, 
Fairies, weezels, rats, and ferrets : 

From curfew time 

To the next prime. 

CARTWRIGHT. 





CHRISTMAS EVE 

|T was a brilliant moonlight night, but 
extremely cold ; our chaise whirled 
rapidly over the frozen ground ; the 
post-boy smacked his whip incessantly, 
and a part of the time his horses were 
on a gallop. " He knows where he is going," said 
my companion, laughing, " and is eager to arrive 
in time for some of the merriment and good cheer 
of the servants' hall. My father, you must know, 
is a bigoted devotee of the old school, and prides 




44 CHRISTMAS EVE 

himself upon keeping up something of old English 
hospitality. He is a tolerable specimen of what 
you will rarely meet with now-a-days in its purity, 
the old English country gentleman ; for our men 
of fortune spend so much of their time in town, 
and fashion is carried so much into the country, 
that the strong rich peculiarities of ancient rural 
life are almost polished a\vay. My father, how- 
ever, from early years, took honest Peacham * for 
his text book, instead of Chesterfield : he deter- 
mined, in his own mind, that there was no condi- 
tion more truly honourable and enviable than that 
of a country gentleman on his paternal lands, and, 
therefore, passes the whole of his time on his 
estate. He is a strenuous advocate for the revival 
of the old rural games and holiday observances, 
and is deeply read in the writers, ancient 
and modern, who have treated on the subject. 
Indeed, his favourite range of reading is among 
the authors who flourished at least two centuries 

* Peacham's Complete Gentleman, 1622. 



CHRISTMAS EVE 45 



since ; who, he insists, wrote and thought more 
like true Englishmen than any of their successors. 
He even regrets sometimes that he had not been 
born a few centuries earlier, when England was 
itself, and had its peculiar manners and customs. 
As he lives at some distance from the main road, 
in rather a lonely part of the country, without any 
rival gentry near him, he has that most enviable 
of all blessings to an Englishman, an opportunity 
of indulging the bent of his own humour without 
molestation. Being representative of the oldest 
family in the neighbourhood, and a great part of 
the peasantry being his tenants, he is much looked 
up to, and, in general, is known simply by the 
appellation of 'The Squire;' a title which has 
been accorded to the head of the family since 
time immemorial. I think it best to give you 
these hints about my worthy old father, to pre- 
pare you for any little eccentricities that might 
otherwise appear absurd." 

We had passed for some time along the wall 



46 



CHRISTMAS EVE 



of a park, and at length the chaise stopped at the 
gate. It was in a heavy magnificent old style, of 
iron bars, fancifully wrought at top into flourishes 
and flowers. The huge square columns that sup- 
ported the gate were surmounted by the family 
crest. Close adjoining was the porter's lodge, 
sheltered under dark fir-trees, and almost buried 
in shrubbery. 

The post-boy rang a large porter's bell, which 
resounded through the still frosty air, and was 
answered by the distant barking of dogs, with 
which the mansion-house seemed garrisoned. An 
old woman immediately ap- 
peared at the gate. As the 
moonlight fell strongly upon 
her, I had a full view of a 
little primitive dame, dressed 
very much in the antique 
taste, with a neat kerchief 
and stomacher, and her silver 
hair peeping from under a cap of snowy whiteness. 





" It was in a heavy magnificent old style, of iron bars, fancifully wrought at top into flourishes 
and flowers." PAGE 46. 



CHRISTMAS EVE 47 

She came curtseying forth, with many expressions 
of simple joy at seeing her young master. Her 
husband, it seems, was up at the house keeping 
Christmas eve in the servants' hall ; they could 
not do without him, as he was the best hand at 
a song and story in the household. 

My friend proposed that we should alight and 
walk through the park to the hall, which was at 
no great distance, while the chaise should follow 
on. Our road wound through a noble avenue of 
trees, among the naked branches of which the 
moon glittered as she rolled through the deep 
vault of a cloudless sky. The lawn beyond was 
sheeted with a slight covering of snow, which 
here and there sparkled as the moonbeams caught 
a frosty crystal ; and at a distance might be seen 
a thin transparent vapour, stealing up from the 
low grounds, and threatening gradually to shroud 
the landscape. 

My companion looked round him with trans- 
port : " How often," said he, "have I scampered 



48 CHRISTMAS EVE 

up this avenue, on returning home on school 
vacations ! How often have I played under these 
trees when a boy ! I feel a degree of filial 
reverence for them, as we look up to those who 
have cherished us in childhood. My father was 
always scrupulous in exacting our holidays, and 
having us around him on family festivals. He 
used to direct and superintend our games with the 
strictness that some parents do the studies of 
their children. He was very particular that we 
should play the old English games according to 
their original form ; and consulted old books for 
precedent and authority for every 'merrie disport;' 
yet I assure you there never was pedantry so 
delightful. It was the policy of the good old 
gentleman to make his children feel that home 
was the happiest place in the world ; and I value 
this delicious home-feeling as one of the choicest 
gifts a parent can bestow." 

We were interrupted by the clangour of a 
troop of dogs of all sorts and sizes, "mongrel, 



CHRISTMAS EVE 



49 



puppy, whelp and hound, and curs of low degree/' 
that, disturbed by the ringing of the porter's bell, 







and the rattling of the chaise, came bounding, 
open-mouthed, across the lawn. 



-" The little dogs and all, 



Tray, Blanch, and Sweetheart see they bark at me ! " 

cried Bracebridge, laughing. At the sound of his 



50 CHRISTMAS EVE 

voice the bark was changed into a yelp of 
delight, and in a moment he was surrounded and 
almost overpowered by the caresses of the faith- 
ful animals. 

We had now come in full view of the old 
family mansion, partly thrown in deep shadow, 
and partly lit up by the cold moonshine. It was 
an irregular building of some magnitude, and 
seemed to be of the architecture of different 
periods. One wing was evidently very ancient, 
with heavy stone-shafted bow windows jutting 
out and overrun with ivy, from among the foliage 
of which the small diamond-shaped panes of 
glass glittered with the moonbeams. The rest 
of the house was in the French taste of Charles 
the Second's time, having been repaired and 
altered, as my friend told me, by one of his 
ancestors, who returned with that monarch at the 
Restoration. The grounds about the house were 
laid out in the old formal manner of artificial 
flower-beds, clipped shrubberies, raised terraces, 



CHRISTMAS EVE 51 

and heavy stone balustrades, ornamented with 
urns, a leaden statue or two, and a jet of water. 
The old gentleman, I was told, was extremely 
careful to preserve this obsolete finery in all its 
original state. He admired this fashion in 
gardening ; it had an air of magnificence, was 
courtly and noble, and befitting good old family 
style. The boasted imitation of nature in modern 
gardening had sprung up with modern republican 
notions, but did not suit a monarchical government; 
it smacked of the levelling system. I. could not 
help smiling at this introduction of politics into 
gardening, though I expressed some apprehension 
that I should find the old gentleman rather 
intolerant in his creed. Frank assured me, how- 
ever, that it was almost the only instance in which 
he had ever heard his father meddle with politics; 
and he believed that he had got this notion from 
a member of parliament who once passed a few 
weeks with him. The Squire was glad of any 
argument to defend his clipped yew-trees and 



52 



CHRISTMAS EVE 



formal terraces, which had been occasionally 
attacked by modern landscape-gardeners. 

As we approached the house, we heard the 
sound of music, and now and then a burst of 
laughter from one end of the building. This, 
Bracebridge said, must proceed from the servants' 
hall, where a great deal of revelry was permitted, 

and even encouraged, 
by the Squire through- 
out the twelve days of 
Christmas, provided 
everything was done 
conformably toancient 




usage. Here were 
kept up the old games 
of hoodman blind, 
shoe the wild mare, 
hot cockles, steal the 
white loaf, bob apple, 
and snapdragon : the 
Yule log and Christmas candle were regularly 



CHRISTMAS EVE 



53 



burnt, and the mistletoe, with its white berries, 
hung up, to the imminent peril of all the pretty 
housemaids.^ 

So intent were the servants upon their sports, 
that we had to ring repeatedly before we could 
make ourselves heard. On our arrival being 




* See Note A. 



54 CHRISTMAS EVE 

announced, the Squire came out to receive us, 
accompanied by his two other sons ; one a young 
officer in the army, home on leave of absence ; 
the other an Oxonian, just from the university. 
The Squire was a fine, healthy-looking old gentle- 
man, with silver hair curling lightly round an 
open florid countenance ; in which a physiogno- 
mist, with the advantage, like myself, of a 
previous hint or two, might discover a singular 
mixture of whim and benevolence. 

The family meeting was warm and affection- 
ate ; as the evening was far advanced, the Squire 
would not permit us to change our travelling 
dresses, but ushered us at once to the company, 
which was assembled in a large old-fashioned 
hall. It was composed of different branches 
of a numerous family connection, where there 
were the usual proportion of old uncles and aunts, 
comfortably married dames, superannuated spin- 
sters, blooming country cousins, half-fledged strip- 
lings, and bright-eyed boarding-school hoydens. 




" The company, wl 



CHRISTMAS EVE 



55 



They were variously occupied ; some at a round 
game of cards ; others conversing around the fire- 
place ; at one end of the hall was a group of the 
young folks, some nearly grown up, others of a 
more tender and budding age, fully engrossed by 




a merry game ; and a profusion of wooden horses, 
penny trumpets, and tattered dolls, about the 
floor, showed traces of a troop of little fairy 
beings, who having frolicked through a happy 
day, had been carried off to slumber through a 
peaceful night. 



56 CHRISTMAS EVE 

While the mutual greetings were going on 
between Bracebridge and his relatives, I had time 
to scan the apartment. I have called it a hall, 
for so it had certainly ben in old times, and the 
Squire had evidently endeavoured to restore it to 
something of its primitive state. Over the heavy 
projecting fireplace was suspended a picture of a 
warrior in armour, standing by a white horse, and 
on the opposite wall hung helmet, buckler, and 
lance. At one end an enormous pair of antlers 
were inserted in the wall, the branches serving 
as hooks on which to suspend hats, whips, and 
spurs ; and in the corners of the apartment were 
fowling-pieces, fishing-rods, and other sporting 
implements. The furniture was of the cumbrous 
workmanship of former days, though some articles 
of modern convenience had been added, and the 
oaken floor had been carpeted ; so that the 
whole presented an odd mixture of parlour and 
hall. 

The grate had been removed from the wide 



CHRISTMAS EVE 



57 



overwhelming fireplace, to make way for a fire of 
wood, in the midst of which was an enormous log 




glowing and blazing, and sending forth a vast 
volume of light and heat ; this I understood was 
the Yule-log, which the Squire was particular in 



58 



CHRISTMAS EVE 



having brought in and illumined on a Christmas 
eve, according to ancient custom/" 

It was really delightful to see the old Squire 
seated in his hereditary elbow-chair by the 




hospitable fireside of his ancestors, and looking 
around him like the sun of a system, beaming 
warmth and gladness to every heart. Even the 
very dog that lay stretched at his feet, as he 
lazily shifted his position and yawned, would look 

* See Note B. 



CHRISTMAS EVE 59 

fondly up in his master's face, wag his tail against 
the floor, and stretch himself again to sleep, con- 
fident of kindness and protection. There is an 
emanation from the heart in genuine hospitality 
which cannot be described, but is immediately 
felt, and puts the stranger at once at his ease. 
I had not been seated many 'minutes by the 
comfortable hearth of the worthy cavalier before 
I found myself as much at home as if I had been 
one of the family. 

Supper was announced shortly after our arri- 
val. It was served up in a spacious oaken 
chamber, the panels of which shone with wax, 
and around which were several family portraits 
decorated with holly and ivy. Beside the ac- 
customed lights, two great wax tapers, called 
Christmas candles, wreathed with greens, were 
placed on a highly -polished buffet among the 
family plate. The table was abundantly spread 
with substantial fare ; but the Squire made his 
supper of frumenty, a dish made of wheat cakes 



60 



CHRISTMAS EVE 




boiled in milk with rich spices, being a standing 
dish in old times for Christmas eve. I was 
happy to find my old friend, minced-pie, in the 
retinue of the feast ; and finding him to be 
perfectly orthodox, and that I need not be 
ashamed of my predilection, I greeted him with 



CHRISTMAS EVE 61 

all the warmth wherewith we usually greet an old 
and very genteel acquaintance. 

The mirth of the company was greatly pro- 
moted by the humours of an eccentric personage 
whom Mr. Bracebridge always addressed with the 
quaint appellation of Master Simon. He was a 
tight, brisk little man, with the air of an arrant old 
bachelor. His nose was shaped like the bill of a 
parrot ; his face slightly pitted with the small-pox, 




with a dry perpetual bloom on it, like a frost-bitten 
leaf in autumn. He had an eye of great quickness 
and vivacity, with a drollery and lurking waggery 
of expression that was irresistible. He was evi- 
dently the wit of the family, dealing very much in 



62 



CHRISTMAS EVE 



slyjokes and innuendoes with the ladies, and making 
infinite merriment by harpings upon old themes ; 
which, unfortunately, my ignorance of the family 
chronicles did not permit'me to enjoy. It seemed 
to be his great delight during supper to keep a 
young girl next him in a continual agony of stifled 
laughter, in spite of her awe of the reproving looks 





of her mother, who sat opposite. Indeed, he was 
the idol of the younger part of the company, who 
laughed at everything he said or did, and at every 
turn of his countenance. I could not wonder at 
it ; for he must have been a miracle of accom- 



CHRISTMAS EVE 63 

plishments in their eyes. He could imitate 
Punch and Judy ; make an old woman of his 
hand, with the assistance of a burnt cork and 
pocket-handkerchief; and cut an orange into such 
a ludicrous caricature, that the young folks were 
ready to die with laughing. 

I was let briefly into his history by Frank 
Bracebridge. He was an old bachelor of a small 
independent income, which by careful manage- 
ment was sufficient for all his wants. He revolved 
through the family system like a vagrant comet in 
its orbit ; sometimes visiting one branch, and 
sometimes another quite remote ; as is often the 
case with gentlemen of extensive connections and 
small fortunes in England. He had a chirping, 
buoyant disposition, always enjoying the present 
moment ; and his frequent change of scene and 
company prevented his acquiring those rusty unac- 
commodating habits with which old bachelors are 
so uncharitably charged. He was a complete family 
chronicle, being versed in the genealogy, history, 



64 CHRISTMAS EVE 

and intermarriages of the whole house of Brace- 
bridge, which made him a great favourite with 
the old folks ; he was a beau of all the elder ladies 
and superannuated spinsters, among whom he 
was habitually considered rather a young fellow, 
and he was a master of the revels among the 
children ; so that there was not a more popular 
being in the sphere in which he moved than Mr. 
Simon Bracebridge. Of late years he had 
resided almost entirely with the Squire, to whom 
he had become a factotum, and whom he particu- 
larly delighted by jumping with his humour in 
respect to old times, and by having a scrap of 
an old song to suit every occasion. We had 
presently a specimen of his last-mentioned talent ; 
for no sooner was supper removed, and spiced 
wines and other beverages peculiar to the season 
introduced, than Master Simon was called on for 
a good old Christmas song. He bethought him- 
self for a moment, and then, with a sparkle of the 
eye, and a voice that was by no means bad, 



.CHRISTMAS EVE 



65 



excepting that it ran occasionally into a falsetto, 
like the notes of a split reed, he quavered forth 
a quaint old ditty, 

Now Christmas is come, 

Let us beat up the drum, 
And call all our neighbours together ; 

And when they appear, 

Let us make them such cheer, 
As will keep out the wind and the weather, etc. 







The supper had disposed every one to gaiety, 
and an old harper was summoned from the 



00 CHRISTMAS EVE 

servants' hall, where he had been strumming all 
the evening, and to all appearance comforting 
himself with some of the Squire's home-brewed. 
He was a kind of hanger-on, I was told, of the 
establishment, and though ostensibly a resident 
of the village, was oftener to be found in the 
Squire's kitchen than his own home, the old 
gentleman being fond of the sound of "harp in 
hall." 

The dance, like most dances after supper, was 
a merry one ; some of the older folks joined in it, 
and the Squire himself figured down several 
couples with a partner with whom he affirmed he 
had danced at every Christmas for nearly half-a- 
century. Master Simon, who seemed to be a 
kind of connecting link between the old times and 
the new, and to be withal a little antiquated in the 
taste of his accomplishments, evidently piqued 
himself on his dancing, and was endeavouring to 
gain credit by the heel and toe, rigadoon, and 
other graces of the ancient school ; but he had 



CHRISTMAS EVE 




unluckily assorted himself with a little romping 
girl from boarding-school, who, by her wild 
vivacity, kept him continually on the stretch, and 
defeated all his sober attempts at elegance ; such 
are the ill -assorted matches to which antique 
gentlemen are unfortunately prone ! 



CHRISTMAS EVE 



The young Oxonian, on the contrary, had led 
out one of his maiden aunts, on whom the rogue 




played a thousand little knaveries with impunity ; 
he was full of practical jokes, and his delight was 
to tease his aunts and cousins ; yet, like all 



CHRISTMAS EVE 69 

madcap youngsters, he was a universal favourite 
among the women. The most interesting couple 
in the dance was the young officer and a ward of 
the Squire's, a beautiful blushing girl of seventeen. 
From several shy glances which I had noticed in 
the course of the evening, I suspected there was 
a little kindness growing up between them ; and, 
indeed, the young soldier was just the hero 
to captivate a romantic girl. He was tall, 
slender, and handsome, and, like most young 
British officers of late years, had picked up 
various small accomplishments on the Continent 
he could talk French and Italian draw land- 
scapes, sing very tolerably dance divinely ; but, 
above all, he had been wounded at Waterloo : 
what girl of seventeen, well read in poetry and 
romance, could resist such a mirror of chivalry 
and perfection ! 

The moment the dance was over, he caught 
up a guitar, and lolling against the old marble 
fireplace, in an attitude which I am half inclined 



CHRISTMAS EVE 



to suspect was studied, began the little French 
air of the Troubadour. The Squire, however, 




exclaimed against having anything on Christmas 
eve but good old English ; upon which the young 
minstrel, casting up his eye for a moment, as if in 



CHRISTMAS EVE 71 

an effort of memory, struck into another strain, 
and, with a charming air of gallantry, gave 
Herrick's " Night-Piece to Julia :" 

Her eyes the glow-worm lend thee, 
The shooting stars attend thee, 

And the elves also, 

Whose little eyes glow 
Like the sparks of fire, befriend thee. 

No Will-o'-the-Wisp mislight thee ; 
Nor snake or glow-worm bite thee ; 

But on, on thy way, 

Not making a stay, 
Since ghost there is none to affright thee. 

Then let not the dark thee cumber ; 
What though the moon does slumber, 

The stars of the night 

Will lend thee their light, 
Like tapers clear without number. 

Then, Julia, let me woo thee, 
Thus, thus to come unto me ; 

And when I shall meet 

Thy silvery feet, 
My soul I'll pour into thee. 

The song might have been intended in com- 



72 CHRISTMAS EVE 

pliment to the fair Julia, for so I found his partner 
was called, or it might not; she, however, was 
certainly unconscious of any such application, for 
she never looked at the singer, but kept her eyes 
cast upon the floor. Her face was suffused, it is 
true, with a beautiful blush, and there was a gentle 
heaving of the bosom, but all that was doubtless 
caused by the exercise of the dance ; indeed, so 
great was her indifference, that she was amusing 
herself with plucking to pieces a choice bouquet of 
hothouse flowers, and by the time the song was 
concluded, the nosegay lay in ruins on the floor. 

The party now broke up for the night with 
the kind-hearted old custom of shaking hands. 
As I passed through the hall, on the way to my 
chamber, the dying embers of the Yule-clog still 
sent forth a dusky glow ; and had it not been the 
season when "no spirit dares stir abroad," I 
should have been half tempted to steal from my 
room at midnight, and peep whether the fairies 
might not be at their revels about the hearth. 




" Indeed, so great was her indifference, that she was amusing herself with plucking to pieces a 
choice bouquet of .hot-house flowers." PAGE 72. 



CHRISTMAS EVE 73 

My chamber was in the old part of the 
mansion, the ponderous furniture of which might 
have been fabricated in the days of the giants. 
The room was panelled with cornices of heavy 
carved- work, in which flowers and grotesque faces 
were strangely intermingled ; and a row of black- 
looking portraits stared mournfully at me from the 
walls. The bed was of rich though faded damask, 
with a lofty tester, and stood in a niche opposite a 
bow-window. I had scarcely got into bed when 
a strain of music seemed to break forth in the air 
just below the window. I listened, and found it 
proceeded from a band, which I concluded to be 
the waits from some neighbouring village. They 
went round the house, playing under the windows. 
I drew aside the curtains, to hear them more 
distinctly. The moonbeams fell through the 
upper part of the casement, partially lighting up 
the antiquated apartment. The sounds, as they 
receded, became more soft and aerial, and seemed 
to accord with quiet and moonlight. I listened 



CHRISTMAS EVE 



and listened they became more and more tender 
and remote, and, as they gradually died away, my 
head sank upon the pillow and I fell asleep. 




<L\)Y\Jftifi0jrt) 

^ -2_ <^^^ 




Dark and dull night, flie hence away, 
And give the honour to this day 





CHRISTMAS DAY 

HEN I awoke the next morning, 
it seemed as if all the events of 
the preceding evening had been a 
dream, and nothing but the iden- 
tity of the ancient chamber con- 
vinced me of their reality. While I lay musing 
on my pillow, I heard the sound of little feet 




CHRISTMAS DAY 



pattering outside of the door, and a whispering 
consultation. Presently a choir of small voices 




chanted forth an old Christmas carol, the burden 
of which was, 

Rejoice, our Saviour he was born 
On Christmas Day in the morning. 

I rose softly, slipped on my clothes, opened the 



CHRISTMAS DAY 79 

door suddenly, and beheld one of the most beauti- 
ful little fairy groups that a painter could imagine. 
It consisted of a boy and two girls, the eldest not 
more than six, and lovely as seraphs. They were 
going the rounds of the house, and singing at 
every chamber-door ; but my sudden appearance 
frightened them into mute bashfulness. They 
remained for a moment playing on their lips with 
their fingers, and now and then stealing a shy 
glance, from under their eyebrows, until, as if by 
one impulse, they scampered away, and as they 
turned an angle of the gallery, I heard them 
laughing in triumph at their escape. 

Everything conspired to produce kind and 
happy feelings in this stronghold of old-fashioned 
hospitality. The window of my chamber looked 
out upon what in summer would have been a 
beautiful landscape. There was a sloping lawn, 
a fine stream winding at the foot of it, and a tract 
of park beyond, with noble clumps of trees, and 
herds of deer. At a distance was a neat hamlet, 



80 



CHRISTMAS DAY 



with the smoke from 
the cottage chimneys 
hanging over it; and 
a church with its dark 
spire in strong relief 
against the clear cold 
sky. The house was 
surrounded with ever- 
greens, according to 
the English custom, 
which would have 
given almost an appearance 
of summer ; but the morn- 
ing was extremely frosty; 
the light vapour of the preceding 
evening had been precipitated by 
the cold, and covered all the 
trees and every blade of grass 
with its fine crystallisations. The 
rays of a bright morning sun had 
a dazzling effect among the glitter- 




CHRISTMAS DAY 



81 



ing foliage. A robin, perched upon the top of a 
mountain-ash that hung its clusters of red berries 
just before my window, was basking himself in the 
sunshine, and piping a few querulous notes ; and 
a peacock was displaying all the glories of his 
train, and strutting with the pride and gravity of 
a Spanish grandee on the terrace->valk below. 

I had scarcely dressed myself, when a servant 
appeared to invite me to family prayers. He 
showed me the way to a small chapel in the old 

wing of the house, where 
I found the principal part 
of the family already as- 
sembled in a kind of 
gallery, furnished with 
cushions, hassocks, and 
large prayer-books ; the 
servants were seated on 
benches below. The old 
gentleman read prayers from a desk in front of 
the gallery, and Master Simon acted as clerk, 

G 




82 CHRISTMAS DAY 

and made the responses ; and I must do him 
the justice to say that he acquitted himself with 
great gravity and decorum. 

The service was followed by a Christmas 
carol, which Mr. Bracebridge himself had con- 
structed from a poem of his favourite author, 
Herrick ; and it had been adapted to an old 
church melody by Master Simon. As there were 
several good voices among the household, the 
effect was extremely pleasing ; but I was particu- 
larly gratified by the exaltation of heart, and 
sudden sally of grateful feeling, with which the 
worthy Squire delivered one stanza : his eyes 
glistening, and his voice rambling out of all the 
bounds of time and tune : 

" 'Tis Thou that crown'st my glittering hearth 

With guiltlesse mirth, 
And giv'st me wassaile bowles to drink, 

Spiced to the brink : 
Lord, 'tis Thy plenty-dropping hand 

That soiles my land ; 
And giv'st me for my bushell sowne, 

Twice ten for one." 



CHRISTMAS DAY 83 

I afterwards understood that early morning 
service was read on every Sunday and saint's day 
throughout the year, either by Mr. Bracebridge 
or by some member of the family. It was once 
almost universally the case at the seats of the 
nobility and gentry of England, and it is much to 
be regretted that the custom is fallen into neglect ; 
for the dullest observer must be sensible of the 
order and serenity prevalent in those households, 
where the occasional exercise of a beautiful form 
of worship in the morning gives, as it were, the 
key-note to every temper for the day, and 
attunes every spirit to harmony. 

Our breakfast consisted of what the Squire 
denominated true old English fare. He indulged 
in some bitter lamentations over modern break- 
fasts of tea-and-toast, which he censured as among 
the causes of modern effeminacy and weak nerves, 
and the decline of old English heartiness ; and 
though he admitted them to his table to suit 
the palates of his guests, yet there was a brave 



84 



CHRISTMAS DAY 




display of cold meats, wine and ale, on the 
sideboard. 

After breakfast I walked about the grounds 
with Frank Bracebridge and Master Simon, or 
Mr. Simon, as he was called by everybody but 
the Squire. We were escorted by a number of 
gentlemen-like dogs, that seemed loungers about 
the establishment ; from the frisking spaniel to 
the steady old stag-hound ; the last of which was 



CHRISTMAS DAY 



85 



of a race that had been in the family time out of 
mind : they were all obedient to a dog-whistle 




which hung to Master Simon's button-hole, and 
in the midst of their gambols would glance an 
eye occasionally upon a small switch he carried 
in his hand. 



86 CHRISTMAS DAY 

The old mansion had a still more venerable 
look in the yellow sunshine than by pale moon- 
light ; and I could not but feel the force of the 
Squire's idea, that the formal terraces, heavily 
moulded balustrades, and clipped yew-trees, carried 
with them an air of proud aristocracy. There 
appeared to be an unusual number of peacocks 
about the place, and I was making some remarks 
upon what I termed a flock of them, that were 
basking under a sunny wall, when I was gently 
corrected in my phraseology by Master Simon, 
who told me that, according to the most ancient 
and approved treatise on hunting, I must say a 
muster of peacocks. " In the same way," added 
he, with a slight air of pedantry, "we say a flight 
of doves or swallows, a bevy of quails, a herd of 
deer, of wrens, or cranes, a skulk of foxes, or a 
building of rooks." He went on to inform me 
that, according to Sir Anthony Fitzherbert, we 
ought to ascribe to this bird " both understanding 
and glory ; for being praised, he will presently set 



CHRISTMAS DAY 87 

up his tail chiefly against the sun, to the intent 
you may the better behold the beauty thereof. 
But at the fall of the leaf, when his tail falleth, he 
will mourn and hide himself in corners, till his 
tail come again as it was." 

I could not help smiling at this display of 
small erudition on so whimsical a subject ; but I 
found that the peacocks were birds of some con- 
sequence at the hall, for Frank Bracebridge in- 
formed me that they were great favourites with 
his father, who was extremely careful to keep 
up the breed ; partly because they belonged to 
chivalry, and were in great request at the stately 
banquets of the olden time ; and partly because 
they had a pomp and magnificence about them, 
highly becoming an old family mansion. Nothing, 
he was accustomed to say, had an air of greater 
state and dignity than a peacock perched upon an 
antique stone balustrade. 

Master Simon had now to hurry off, having 
an appointment at the parish church with the 



CHRISTMAS DAY 




village choristers, who were to perform some music 
of his selection. There was something extremely 
agreeable in the cheerful flow of animal spirits of 
the little man ; and I confess I had been some- 
what surprised at his apt quotations from authors 
who certainly were not in the range of every-day 



CHRISTMAS DAY 89 

reading. I mentioned this last circumstance to 
Frank Bracebridge, who told me with a smile 
that Master Simon's whole stock of erudition was 
confined to some half-a-dozen old authors, which 
the Squire had put into his hands, and which he 
read over and over, whenever he had a studious 
fit ; as he sometimes had on a rainy day, or a 
long winter evening. Sir Anthony Fitzherbert's 
Book of Husbandry ; Markham's Country Con- 
tentments ; the Tretyse of Hunting, by Sir 
Thomas Cockayne, Knight ; Izaak Walton's 
Angler, and two or three more such ancient 
worthies of the pen, were his standard authorities ; 
and, like all men who know but a few books, he 
looked up to them with a kind of idolatry, and 
quoted them on all occasions. As to his songs, 
they were chiefly picked out of old books in the 
Squire's library, and adapted to tunes that were 
popular among the choice spirits of the last 
century. His practical application of scraps of 
literature, however, had caused him to be looked 



90 CHRISTMAS DAY 

upon as a prodigy of book-knowledge by all the 
grooms, huntsmen, and small sportsmen of the 
neighbourhood. 

While we were talking we heard the distant 
toll of the village bell, and I was told that the 
Squire was a little particular in having his house- 
hold at church on a Christmas morning ; con- 
sidering it a day of pouring out of thanks and re- 
joicing ; for, as old Tusser observed, 

"At Christmas be merry, and thankful withal \ 
And feast thy poor neighbours, the great and the small." 

" If you are disposed to go to church," said 
Frank Bracebridge, " I can promise you a speci- 
men 'of my cousin Simon's musical achievements. 
As the church is destitute of an organ, he has 
formed a band from the village amateurs, and 
established a musical club for their improvement ; 
he has also sorted a choir, as he sorted my 
father's pack of hounds, according to the direc- 
tions of Jervaise Markham, in his Country Con- 
tentments ; for the bass he has sought out all the 



CHRISTMAS DAY 



91 



1 deep, solemn mouths,' and for the tenor the ' loud 
ringing mouths,' among the country bumpkins ; 
and for ' sweet mouths,' he has culled with curious 
taste among the prettiest lasses in the neighbour- 
hood ; though these last, he affirms, are the most 
difficult to keep in tune ; your pretty female singer 
being exceedingly wayward and capricious, and 
very liable to accident." 




As the morning, though frosty, was remarkably 



92 CHRISTMAS DAY 

fine and clear, the most of the family walked 
to the church, which was a very old building of 
gray stone, and stood near a village, about half-a- 
mile from the park gate. -Adjoining it was a low 
snug parsonage, which seemed coeval with the 
church. The front of it was perfectly matted 
with a yew-tree that had been trained against its 
walls, through the dense foliage of which aper- 
tures had been formed to admit light into the 
small antique lattices. As we passed this 
sheltered nest, the parson issued forth and pre- 
ceded us. 

I had expected to see a sleek well-conditioned 
pastor, such as is often found in a snug living in 
the vicinity of a rich patron's table ; but I was 
disappointed. The parson was a little, meagre, 
black-looking man, with a grizzled wig that was 
too wide, and stood off from each ear ; so that 
his head seemed to have shrunk away within it, 
like a dried filbert in its shell. He wore a rusty 
coat, with great skirts, and pockets that would 



CHRISTMAS DAY 



93 



have held the church Bible and prayer-book ; and 
his small legs seemed still smaller, from being 




planted in large shoes, decorated with enormous 
buckles. 

I was informed by Frank Bracebridge that 
the parson had been a chum of his father's at 



94 CHRISTMAS DAY 

Oxford, and had received this living shortly after 
the latter had come to his estate. He was a com- 
plete black-letter hunter, and would scarcely read 
a work printed in the Roman character. The 
editions of Caxton and Wynkin de Worde were 
his delight ; and he was indefatigable in his 
researches after such old English writers as have 
fallen into oblivion from their worthlessness. In 
deference, perhaps, to the notions of Mr. Brace- 
bridge, he had made diligent investigations into 
the festive rights and holiday customs of former 
times ; and had been as zealous in the inquiry, as 
if he had been a boon companion ; but it was 
merely with that plodding spirit with which men 
of adust temperament follow up any track of 
study, merely because it is denominated learning ; 
indifferent to its intrinsic nature, whether it be the 
illustration of the wisdom, or of the ribaldry and 
obscenity of antiquity. He had poured over these 
old volumes so intensely, that they seemed to 
have been reflected into his countenance indeed ; 




' On reaching the church-porch, we found the parson rebuking the gray-headed sexton for having 
used mistletoe." PAGE 95. 



CHRISTMAS DAY 95 

which, if the face be an index of the mind, 
might be compared to a title-page of black- 
letter. 

On reaching the church-porch, we found the 
parson rebuking the gray-headed sexton for 
having used mistletoe among the greens with 
which the church was decorated. It was, he 
observed, an unholy plant, profaned by having 
been used by the Druids in their mystic cere- 
monies ; and though it might be innocently 
employed in the festive ornamenting of halls and 
kitchens, yet it had been deemed by the Fathers 
of the Church as unhallowed, and totally unfit for 
sacred purposes. So tenacious was he on this 
point, that the poor sexton was obliged to strip 
down a great part of the humble trophies of his 
taste, before the parson would consent to enter 
upon the service of the day. 

The interior of the church was venerable but 
simple ; on the walls were several mural monu- 
ments of the Bracebridges, and just beside the 



96 



CHRISTMAS DAY 




altar was a tomb of ancient 
workmanship, on which lay the 

= 

fs effigy of a warrior in armour, 

with his legs crossed, a sign 
of his having been a crusader. I was told it 
was one of the family who had signalised himself 
in the Holy Land, and the same whose picture 
hung over the fireplace in the hall. 

During service, Master Simon stood up in the 
pew, and repeated the responses very audibly ; 
evincing that kind of ceremonious devotion punctu- 
ally observed by a gentleman of the old school, 
and a man of old family connections. I observed, 
too, that he turned over the leaves of a folio 
prayer-book with something of a flourish ; pos- 
sibly to show off an enormous seal-ring which 




' The orchestra was in a small gallery, and presented a most whimsical grouping of heads." 

PAGE 97. 



CHRISTMAS DAY 




enriched one of his fingers, and which had the 
look of a family relic. But he was evidently most 
solicitous about the musical part of the service, 
keeping his eye fixed intently on the choir, 
and beating time with much gesticulation and 
emphasis. 

The orchestra was in a small gallery, and 
presented a most whimsical grouping of heads, 



H 



98 



CHRISTMAS DAY 



piled one above the other, among which I parti- 
cularly noticed that of the village tailor, a pale 
fellow with a retreating forehead and chin, who 




played on the clarionet, and seemed to have blown 
his face to a point ; and there was another, a 
short pursy man, stooping and labouring at a bass 
viol, so as to show nothing but the top of a round 
bald head, like the egg of an ostrich. There 
were two or three pretty faces among the female 



I 



CHRISTMAS DAY 99 

singers, to which the keen air of a frosty morning 
had given a bright rosy tint ; but the gentlemen 
choristers had evidently been chosen, like old 
Cremona fiddles, more for tone than looks ; and 
as several had to sing from the same book, there 
were clusterings of odd physiognomies, not unlike 
those groups of cherubs we sometimes see on 
country tombstones. 

The usual services of the choir were managed 
tolerably well, the vocal parts generally lagging a 
little behind the instrumental, and some loitering 
fiddler now and then making up for lost time by 
travelling over a passage with prodigious celerity, 
and clearing more bars than the keenest fox- 
hunter, to be in at the death. But the great trial 
was an anthem that had been prepared and 
arranged by Master Simon, and on which he had 
founded great expectation. Unluckily there was 
a blunder at the very outset ; the musicians 
became flurried ; Master Simon was in a fever, 
everything went on lamely and irregularly until 



100 



CHRISTMAS DAY 



they came to a chorus beginning " Now let us 
sing with one accord," which seemed to be a 
signal for parting company : all became discord 
and confusion ; each shifted for himself, and got 
to the end as well, or rather as soon, as he could, 
excepting one old chorister in a pair of horn spec- 




tacles bestriding and pinching a long sonorous 
nose ; who, happening to stand a little apart, and 
being wrapped up in his own melody, kept on a 



CHRISTMAS DAY 



101 



quavering course, wriggling his head, ogling his 
book, and winding all up by a nasal solo of at 
least three bars' duration. 




The parson gave us a most erudite sermon on 
the rites and ceremonies of Christmas, and the 
propriety of observing it not merely as a day of 



102 CHRISTMAS DAY 

thanksgiving, but of rejoicing ; supporting the 
correctness of his opinions by the earliest usages 
of the Church, and enforcing them by the autho- 
rities of Theophilus of Cesarea, St. Cyprian, St. 
Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and a cloud more of 
Saints and Fathers, from whom he made copious 
quotations. I was a little at a loss to perceive 
the necessity of such a mighty array of forces to 
maintain a point which no one present seemed 
inclined to dispute ; but I soon found that the 
good man had a legion of ideal adversaries to 
contend with ; having in the course of his re- 
searches on the subject of Christmas, got com- 
pletely embroiled in the sectarian controversies of 
the Revolution, when the Puritans made such a 
fierce assault upon the ceremonies of the Church, 
and poor old Christmas was driven out of the land 
by proclamation of parliament.^ The worthy 
parson lived but with times past, and knew but a 
little of the present. 

* See Note C. 



CHRISTMAS DAY 103 

Shut up among worm-eaten tomes in the 
retirement of his antiquated little study, the pages 
of old times were to him as the gazettes of the 
day ; while the era of the Revolution was mere 
modern history. He forgot that nearly two 
centuries had elapsed since the fiery persecution 
of poor mince-pie throughout the land ; when 
plum-porridge was denounced as " mere popery," 
and roast beef as antichristian ; and that Christ- 
mas had been brought in again triumphantly with 
the merry court of King Charles at the Restora- 
tion. He kindled into warmth with the ardour of 
his contest, and the host of imaginary foes with 
whom he had to combat ; had a stubborn conflict 
with old Prynne and two or three other forgotten 
champions of the Roundheads, on the subject of 
Christmas festivity ; and concluded by urging his 
hearers, in the most solemn and affecting manner, 
to stand to the traditionary customs of their 
fathers, and feast and make merry on this joyful 
anniversary of the Church. 



104 



CHRISTMAS DAY 



I have seldom known a sermon attended appa- 
rently with more immediate effects ; for on 
leaving the church the congregation seemed one 
and all possessed with the gaiety of spirit so 
earnestly enjoined by their pastor. The elder folks 




gathered in knots in the churchyard, greeting 
and shaking hands ; and the children ran about 
crying, Ule ! Ule ! and repeating some uncouth 



CHRISTMAS DAY 105 

rhymes,"" which the parson, who had joined us, 
informed me had been handed down from days 
of yore. The villagers doffed their hats to the 
Squire as he passed, giving him the good wishes 
of the season with every appearance of heartfelt 
sincerity, and were invited by him to the hall, to 
take something to keep out the cold of the 
weather ; and I heard blessings uttered by several 
of the poor, which convinced me that, in the midst 
of his enjoyments, the worthy old cavalier had not 
forgotten the true Christmas virtue of charity. 

On our way homeward his heart seemed over- 
flowing with generous and happy feelings. As 
we passed over a rising ground which commanded 
something of a prospect, the sounds of rustic 
merriment now and then reached our ears ; the 
Squire paused for a few moments, and looked 
around with an air of inexpressible benignity. 
The beauty of the day was of itself sufficient to 

*"Ule! Ule! 

Three puddings in a pule ; 
Crack nuts and cry ule ! " 



106 



CHRISTMAS DAY 




inspire philanthropy. Notwithstanding the frosti- 
ness of the morning, the sun in his cloudless 
journey had acquired sufficient power to melt 
away the thin covering of snow from every 
southern declivity, and to bring out the living 
green which adorns an English landscape even in 
mid-winter. Large tracts of smiling verdure con- 
trasted with the dazzling whiteness of the shaded 
slopes and hollows. Every sheltered bank, on 



CHRISTMAS DAY 107 

which the broad rays rested, yielded its silver 
rill of cold and limpid water, glittering through 
the dripping grass ; and sent up slight exhala- 
tions to contribute to the thin haze that hung just 
above the surface of the earth. There was some- 
thing truly cheering in this triumph of warmth 
and verdure over the frosty thraldom of winter ; 
it was, as the Squire observed, an emblem of 
Christmas hospitality, breaking through the chills 
of ceremony and selfishness, and thawing every 
heart into a flow. He pointed with pleasure to 
the indications of good cheer reeking from the 
chimneys of the comfortable farm-houses and low 
thatched cottages. " I love," said he, "to see this 
day well kept by rich and poor ; it is a great thing 
to have one day in the year, at least, when you 
are sure of being welcome wherever you go, and 
of having, as it were, the world all thrown open 
to you ; and I am almost disposed to join with 
Poor Robin, in his malediction of every churlish 
enemy to this honest festival : 



108 CHRISTMAS DAY 

" Those who at Christmas do repine, 

And would fain hence despatch him, 
May they with old Duke Humphry dine, 
Or else may Squire Ketch catch 'em." 

The Squire went on to lament the deplorable 
decay of the games and amusements which were 
once prevalent at this season among the lower 
orders, and countenanced by the higher : when the 
old halls of castles and manor-houses were thrown 
open at daylight ; when the tables were covered 
with brawn, and beef, and humming ale ; when the 
harp and the carol resounded all day long, and 
when rich and poor were alike welcome to enter 
and make merry. * " Our old games and local 
customs, " said he, "had a great effect in making 
the peasant fond of his home, and the promotion 
of them by the gentry made him fond of his 
lord. They made the times merrier, and kinder, 
and better ; and I can truly say, with one of our 
old poets, 

* See Note D. 



CHRISTMAS DAY 109 

" I like them well the curious preciseness 

And all-pretended gravity of those 
^That seek to banish hence these harmless sports, 
Have thrust away much ancient honesty. 

" The nation," continued he, "is altered ; we 
have almost lost our simple true-hearted pea- 
santry. They have broken asunder from the 
higher classes, and seem to think their interests 




are separate. They have become too knowing, 
and begin to read newspapers, listen to alehouse 
politicians, and talk of reform. I think one mode 
to keep them in good humour in these hard times 



110 CHRISTMAS DAY 

would be for the nobility and gentry to pass 
more time on their estates, mingle more among 
the country people, and set the merry old English 
games going again." 

Such was the good Squire's project for miti- 
gating public discontent ; and, indeed, he had 
once attempted to put his doctrine in practice, 
and a few years before had kept open house 
during the holidays in the old style. The coun- 
try people, however, did not understand how to 
play their parts in the scene of hospitality ; many 
uncouth circumstances occurred ; the manor was 
overrun by all the vagrants of the country, and 
more beggars drawn into the neighbourhood in 
one week than the parish officers could get rid of 
in a year. Since then he had contented himself 
with inviting the decent part of the neighbouring 
peasantry to call at the hall on Christmas day, 
and distributing beef, and bread, and ale, among 
the poor, that they might make merry in their 
own dwellings. 



CHRISTMAS DAY 



111 




We had not been long home when the sound 
of music was heard from a distance. A band of 
country lads without coats, their shirt- sleeves 
fancifully tied with ribands, their hats decorated 
with greens, and clubs in their hands, were seen 
advancing up the avenue, followed by a large 
number of villagers and peasantry. They stopped 
before the hall door, where the music struck up 
a peculiar air, and the lads performed a curious 
and intricate dance, advancing, retreating, and 
striking their clubs together, keeping exact time 



112 



CHRISTMAS DAY 




to the music ; while one, whimsically crowned 
with a fox's skin, the tail of which flaunted down 
his back, kept capering round the skirts of the 
dance, and rattling a Christmas-box with many 
antic gesticulations. 

The- Squire eyed this fanciful exhibition with 
great interest and delight, and gave me a full 
account of its origin, which he traced to the times 
when the Romans held possession of the island ; 
plainly proving that this was a lineal descend- 
ant of the sword-dance of the ancients. "It 
was now," he said, "nearly extinct, but he had 



CHRISTMAS DAY 113 

accidentally met with traces of it in the neigh- 
bourhood, and had encouraged its revival ; though, 
to tell the truth, it was too apt to be followed 
up by rough cudgel-play and broken heads in the 
evening." 

After the dance was concluded, the whole 
party was entertained with brawn and beef, and 
stout home-brewed. The Squire himself mingled 
among the rustics, and was received with awk- 
ward demonstrations of deference and regard. It 




is true I perceived two or three of the younger 
peasants, as they were raising their tankards to 

I 



114 CHRISTMAS DAY 

their mouths when the Squire's back was turned, 
making something of a grimace, and giving each 
other the wink ; but the moment they caught my 
eye they pulled grave faces, and were exceedingly 
demure. With Master Simon, however, they all 
seemed more at their ease. His varied occupa- 
tions and amusements had made him well known 
throughout the neighbourhood. He was a visitor 
at every farm-house and cottage ; gossiped with 
the farmers, and their wives; romped with their 
daughters; and, like that type of a vagrant 
bachelor, the humble bee, tolled the sweets from 
all the rosy lips of the country round. 

The bashfulness of the guests soon gave way 
before good cheer and affability. There is some- 
thing genuine and affectionate in the gaiety of the 
lower orders, when it is excited by the bounty and 
familiarity of those above them ; the warm glow 
of gratitude enters into their mirth, and a kind 
word or a small pleasantry, frankly uttered by a 
patron, gladdens the heart of the dependant more 



CHRISTMAS DAY 



115 




than oil and wine. When the Squire had retired 
the merriment increased, and there was much 
joking and laughter, par- 
ticularly between Master 
Simon and a hale, 
ruddy - faced, white - 
headed farmer, who ap- 
peared to be the wit 
of the village ; for I 
observed all his com- 
panions to wait with 
open mouths for his retorts, and burst into a 
gratuitous laugh before they could well under- 
stand them. 

The whole house indeed seemed abandoned to 
merriment. As I passed to my room to dress for 
dinner, I heard the sound of music in a small 
court, and, looking through a window that com- 
manded it, I perceived a band of wandering 
musicians, with pandean pipes and tambourine ; 
a pretty coquettish housemaid was dancing a jig 



116 



CHRISTMAS DAY 



with a smart country lad, while several of the 
other servants were looking on. In the midst of 
her sport the girl caught a glimpse of my face at 
the window, and, colouring up, ran off with an air 
of roguish affected confusion. 






Lo, now is come the joyful'st feast ! 

Let every man be jolly, 
Eache roome with yvie leaves is drest, 

And every post with holly. 
Now all our neighbours' chimneys smoke, 

And Christmas blocks are burning ; 
Their ovens they with bak't meats choke, 
And all their spits are turning. 
Without the door let sorrow lie, 
And if, for cold, it hap to die, 
We'll bury't in a Christmas pye, 
And evermore be merry. 

WITHERS' s Juvenilia. 






I HAD finished my 
toilet, and was loiter- 
ing with Frank Brace- 
bridge in the library, when 
we heard a distant 
thwacking sound, 
which he informed me was a 
signal for the serving up of the dinner. The 



120 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 




Squire kept up old customs in kitchen as well as 
hall; and the rolling-pin, struck upon the dresser by 
the cook, summoned the servants to carry in the 
meats. 

Just in this nick the cook knock'd thrice, 
And all the waiters in a trice 

His summons did obey ; 
Each serving man, with dish in hand, 
March'd boldly up, like our train-band, 

Presented and away.* 

* Sir John Suckling. 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 



121 



The dinner was served up in the great hall, 
where the Squire always held his Christmas 
banquet. A blazing crackling 
fire of logs had been heaped on 
to warm the spacious apartment, 
and the flame went sparkling 
and wreathing up the wide- 
mouthed chimney. The great 
picture of the crusader and his 
white horse had been profusely 
decorated with greens for the 
occasion ; and holly and ivy had 
likewise been wreathed round 
the helmet and weapons on the 
opposite wall, which I under- 
stood w r ere the arms of the same 
warrior. I must own, by the 
by, I had strong doubts about 
the authenticity of the painting 
and armour as having belonged 
to the crusader, they certainly having the stamp of 




122 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 



more recent days ; but I was told that the paint- 
ing had been so considered time out of mind ; 
and that as to the armour, it had been found in 
a lumber room, and elevated to its present situa- 
tion by the Squire, who at once determined it to 
be the armour of the family hero ; and as he was 
absolute authority on all such subjects in his own 
household, the matter had passed into current 




acceptation. A sideboard was set out just under 
this chivalric trophy, on which was a display of 




' Never did Christmas board display a more goodly and gracious assemblage of countenances. " 

PAGE 123. 




THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 123 

plate that might have vied (at least in variety) 
with Belshazzar's parade of the vessels of the 
temple; " flagons, cans, cups, beakers, goblets, 
basins, and ewers ;" the gorgeous utensils of good 
companionship, that had gradually accumulated 
through many generations of jovial housekeepers. 
Before these stood the two Yule candles beaming 
like two stars of the first magnitude ; other lights 
were distributed in branches, and the whole array 
glittered like a firmament of silver. 

We were ushered into this banqueting scene 
with the sound of minstrelsy, the old harper being 
seated on a stool beside the fireplace, and twang- 
ing his instrument with a vast deal more power 
than melody. Never did Christmas board display 
a more goodly and gracious assemblage of coun- 
tenances : those who were not handsome were, 
at least, happy ; and happiness is a rare improver 
of your hard-favoured visage. I always consider 
an old English family as well worth studying as a 
collection of Holbein's portraits or Albert Durer's 



124 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 



prints. There is much antiquarian lore to be 
acquired ; much knowledge of the physiognomies 
of former times. Perhaps it may be from having 
continually before their eyes those rows of old 
family portraits, with which the mansions of this 
country are stocked ; certain it is, that the quaint 
features of antiquity are often most faithfully 
perpetuated in these ancient lines ; and I have 
traced an old family nose through a whole picture 
gallery, legitimately handed down from genera- 
tion to generation, almost from the time of the 
Conquest. Something of the kind was to be 
observed in the worthy com- 
pany around me. Many of 
their faces had evidently 
originated in a Gothic age, 
and been merely copied by 
succeeding generations ; and 
there was one little girl, in 
particular, of staid demean- 
our, with a high Roman nose, 





THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 



125 



and an antique vinegar aspect, who was a great 
favourite of the Squire's, being, as he said, a 
Bracebridge all over, and the very counterpart of 
one of his ancestors who figured in the court of 
Henry VIII. 







The parson said grace, which was not a short 
familiar one, such as is commonly addressed to 
the Deity, in these unceremonious days ; but a 
long, courtly, well -worded one of the ancient 



126 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 



school. There was now a pause, as if something 
was expected ; when suddenly the butler entered 




the hall with some degree of bustle : he was 
attended by a servant on each side with a large 
wax-light, and bore a silver dish, on which was an 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 127 

enormous pig's head decorated with rosemary, 
with a lemon in its mouth, which was placed with 
great formality at the head of the table. The 
moment this pageant made its appearance, the 
harper struck up a flourish ; at the conclusion of 
which the young Oxonian, on receiving a hint 
from the Squire, gave, with an air of the most 
comic gravity, an old carol, the first verse of 
which was as follows : 

Caput apri defero 

Reddens laudes Domino. 
The boar's head in hand bring I, 
With garlands gay and rosemary. 
I. pray you all synge merily 

Qui estis in convivio. 

Though prepared to witness many of these 
little eccentricities, from being apprised of the 
peculiar hobby of mine host ; yet, I confess, the 
parade with which so odd a dish was introduced 
somewhat perplexed me, until I gathered from the 
conversation of the Squire and the parson that it 
was meant to represent the bringing in of the 



128 THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 

boar's head : a dish formerly served up with much 
ceremony, and the sound of minstrelsy and song, 
at great tables on Christmas day. " I like the 
old custom," said the Squire, " not merely because 
it is stately and pleasing in itself, but because it 
was observed at the College of Oxford, at which 
I was educated. When I hear the old song 
chanted, it brings to mind the time when I was 
young and gamesome and the noble old college- 
hall and my fellow-students loitering about in 
their black gowns ; many of whom, poor lads, are 
now in their graves !" 

The parson, however, whose mind was not 
haunted by such associations, and who was 
always more taken up ' with the text than the 
sentiment, objected to the Oxonian's version 
of the carol ; which he affirmed was different 
from that sung at college. He went on, with 
the dry perseverance of a commentator, to give 
the college reading, accompanied by sundry 
annotations : addressing himself at first to the 






THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 129 



company at large ; but finding their attention 
gradually diverted to other talk, and other 
objects, he lowered his tone as his number 
of auditors diminished, until he concluded his 
remarks, in an under voice, to a fat -headed 
old gentleman next him, who was silently en- 
gaged in the discussion of a huge plateful of 
turkey.^ 




The table was literally loaded with good 
cheer, and presented an epitome of country 
abundance, in this season of overflowing larders. 

* See Note E. 
K 



130 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 



A distinguished post was allotted to " ancient 
sirloin," as mine host termed it ; being, as he 
added, "the standard of old English hospitality, 
and a joint of goodly presence, and full of ex- 
pectation." There were several dishes quaintly 
decorated, and which had evidently something 
traditionary in their embellishments ; but about 
which, as I did not like to appear over-curious, I 
asked no questions. 




I could not, however, but notice a pie, mag- 
nificently decorated with peacocks' feathers, in 
imitation of the tail of that bird, which over- 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 131 

shadowed a considerable tract of the table. This 
the Squire confessed, with some little hesitation, 
was a pheasant -pie, though a peacock -pie was 
certainly the most authentical ; but there had been 
such a mortality among the peacocks this season, 
that he could not prevail upon himself to have one 
killed* 

It would be tedious, perhaps, to my wiser 
readers, who may not have that foolish fondness 
for odd and obsolete things to which I am a little 
given, were I to mention the other makeshifts of 
this worthy old humorist, by which he was 
endeavouring to follow up, though at humble 
distance, the quaint customs of antiquity. I was 
pleased, however, to see the respect shown to his 
whims by his children and relatives ; who, indeed, 
entered readily into the full spirit of them, and 
seemed all well versed in their parts ; having 
doubtless been present at many a rehearsal. I 
was amused, too, at the air of profound gravity 

* See Note F. 



132 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 



with which the butler and other servants executed 
the duties assigned them, however eccentric. 
They had an old-fashioned look ; having, for the 
most part, been brought up in the household, and 
grown into keeping with the antiquated mansion, 
and the humours of its lord ; and most probably 
looked upon all his whimsical regulations as the 
established laws of honourable housekeeping. 




When the cloth was removed, the butler 






THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 133 



brought in a huge silver vessel of rare and 
curious workmanship, which he placed before the 
Squire. Its appearance was hailed with accla- 
mation ; being the Wassail Bowl, so renowned in 
Christmas festivity. The contents had been pre- 
pared by the Squire himself; for it was a bever- 
age in the skilful mixture of which he particularly 
prided himself; alleging that it was too abstruse 
and complex for the comprehension of an ordinary 
servant. It was a potation, indeed, that might 
well make the heart of a toper leap within him ; 
being composed of the richest and raciest wines, 
highly spiced and sweetened, with roasted apples 
bobbing about the surface.^ 

The old gentleman's whole countenance beamed 
with a serene look of indwelling delight, as he 
stirred this mighty bowl. Having raised it to his 
lips, with a hearty wish of a merry Christmas to 
all present, he sent it brimming round the board, 
for every one to follow his example, according to 
* See Note G. 



134 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 




the primitive style; pronouncing it "the ancient 
fountain of good feeling, where all hearts met 
together."* 

There was much laughing and rallying as the 
honest emblem of Christmas joviality circulated, 
and was kissed rather coyly by the ladies. When 

* See Note H. 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 135 

it reached Master Simon he raised it in both 
hands, and with the air of a boon companion 
struck up an old Wassail chanson : 

The browne bowle, 

The merry browne bowle, 

As it goes round about-a, 

Fill 

Still, 

Let the world say what it will, 
And drink your fill all out-a. 

The deep canne, 

The merry deep canne, 

As thou dost freely quaff-a, 

Sing, 

Fling, 

Be as merry as a king, 
And sound a lusty laugh-a.* 

Much of the conversation during dinner 
turned upon family topics, to which I was a 
stranger. There was, however, a great deal of 
rallying of Master Simon about some gay widow, 
with whom he was accused of having a flirtation. 
This attack was commenced by the ladies ; but it 

* From " Poor Robin's Almanack." 



136 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 




was continued throughout the dinner by the fat- 
headed old gentleman next the parson, with the 

persevering assiduity of a 
slow-hound ; being one of 
those long-winded jokers, 
[j, who, though rather dull at 
starting game, are unrivalled 
for their talents in hunting 
it down. At every pause in 
the general conversation, he 
renewed his bantering in pretty much the same 
terms ; winking hard at me with both eyes when- 
ever he gave Master Simon what he considered 
a home thrust. The latter, indeed, seemed fond 
of being teased on the subject, as old bachelors 
are apt to be ; and he took occasion to inform 
me, in an under-tone, that the lady in question 
was a prodigiously fine woman, and drove her 
own curricle. 

The dinner-time passed away in this flow of 
innocent hilarity ; and, though the old hall may 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 137 

have resounded in its time with many a scene of 
broader rout and revel, yet I doubt whether it 
ever witnessed more honest and genuine enjoy- 
ment. How easy it is for one benevolent being 
to diffuse pleasure around him ; and how truly is 
a kind heart a fountain of gladness, making every- 
thing in its vicinity to freshen into smiles ! the 
joyous disposition of the worthy Squire was 
perfectly contagious ; he was happy himself, and 
disposed to make all the world happy ; and the 
little eccentricities of his humour did but season, 
in a manner, the sweetness of his philanthropy. 

When the ladies had retired, the conversation, 
as usual, became still more animated ; many good 
things were broached which had been thought of 
during dinner, but which would not exactly do for 
a lady's ear ; and though I cannot positively 
affirm that there was much wit uttered, yet I have 
certainly heard many contests of rare wit produce 
much less laughter. Wit, after all, is a mighty 
tart, pungent ingredient, and much too acid for 



138 THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 

some stomachs ; but honest good humour is the 
oil and^vine of a merry meeting, and there is no 
jovial companionship equal to that where the 
jokes are rather small, and the laughter abundant. 




The Squire told several long stories of early 
college pranks and adventures, in some of which 
the parson had been a sharer ; though in looking 
at the latter, it required some effort of imagination 
to figure such a little dark anatomy of a man into 
the perpetrator of a madcap gambol. Indeed, the 
two college chums presented pictures of what men 
may be made by their different lots in life. The 
Squire had left the university to live lustily on his 
paternal domains, in the vigorous enjoyment of 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 



139 



prosperity and sunshine, and had flourished on to 
a hearty and florid old age ; whilst the poor 
parson, on the contrary, had dried and withered 
away, among dusty tomes, in the silence and 
shadows of his study. Still there seemed to be a 
spark of almost extinguished fire, feebly glim- 
mering in the bottom of 
his soul ; and as the Squire 
hinted at a sly story of 
the parson and a pretty 
milkmaid, whom 
they once met 
on the banks of 
the Isis, the old 
gentleman made 
an " alphabet of 
faces," which, as 
far as I could de- 
cipher his physi- 
ognomy, I verily 
believe was in- 




140 THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 

dicative of laughter ; indeed, I have rarely met 
with an old gentleman who took absolutely offence 
at the imputed gallantries of his youth. 

I found the tide of wine and wassail fast gain- 
ing on the dry land of sober judgment. The 
company grew merrier and louder as their jokes 
grew duller. Master Simon was in as chirping a 




humour as a grasshopper filled with dew ; his old 
songs grew of a warmer complexion, and he 
began to talk maudlin about the widow. He even 
gave a long song about the wooing of a widow, 
which he informed me he had gathered from 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 141 

an excellent black-letter work, entitled " Cupid's 
Solicitor for Love," containing store of good 
advice for bachelors, and which he promised to 
lend me. The first verse was to this effect : 

He that will woo a widow must not dally, 

He must make hay while the sun doth shine ; 

He must not stand with her, Shall I, Shall I ? 
But boldly say, Widow, thou must be mine. 

This song inspired the fat-headed old gentle- 
man, who made several attempts to tell a rather 
broad story out of Joe Miller, that was pat to 
the purpose ; but he always stuck in the middle, 
everybody recollecting the latter part excepting 
himself. The parson, too, began to show the 
effects of good cheer, having gradually settled 
down into a doze, and his wig sitting most sus- 
piciously on one side. Just at this juncture we 
were summoned to the drawing-room, and, I 
suspect, at the private instigation of mine host, 
whose joviality seemed always tempered with a 
proper love of decorum. 



142 THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 

After the dinner-table was removed, the hall 
was given up to the younger members of the 
family, who, prompted to all kind of noisy mirth 
by the Oxonian and Master Simon, made its old 
walls ring with their merriment, as they played 
at romping games. I delight in witnessing the 
gambols of children, and particularly at this happy 
holiday-season, and could not help stealing out of 
the drawing-room on hearing one of their peals of 
laughter. I found them at the game of blind- 
man's buff. Master Simon, who was the leader 
of their revels, and seemed on all occasions to 
fulfil the office of that ancient potentate, the Lord 
of Misrule,^ was blinded in the midst of the hall. 
The little beings were as busy about him as the 
mock fairies about Falstaff; pinching him, pluck- 
ing at the skirts of his coat, and tickling him 
with straws. One fine blue-eyed girl of about 
thirteen, with her flaxen hair all in beautiful 
confusion, her frolic face in a glow, her frock 

* See Note I. 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 



143 




half torn off her shoulders, a complete picture 
of a romp, was the chief tormentor; and from 
the slyness with which Master Simon avoided 
the smaller game, and hemmed this wild little 
nymph in corners, and obliged her to jump 
shrieking over chairs, I suspected the rogue 



144 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 



of being not a whit more blinded than was 
convenient. 

When I returned to the drawing-room, I 
found the company seated round the fire, listen- 




ing to the parson, who w r as deeply ensconced 
in a high-backed oaken chair, the work of some 
cunning artificer of yore, which had been brought 
from the library for his particular accommodation. 
From this venerable piece of furniture, with 
which his shadowy figure and dark weazen face 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 145 

so admirably accorded, he was dealing forth 
strange accounts of the popular superstitions 
and legends of the surrounding country, with 
which he had become acquainted in the course 
of his antiquarian researches. I am half inclined 
to think that the old gentleman was himself 
somewhat tinctured with superstition, as men are 
very apt to be who live a recluse and studious 
life in a sequestered part of the country, and 
pore over black-letter tracts, so often filled with 
the marvellous and supernatural. He gave us 
several anecdotes of the fancies of the neigh- 
bouring peasantry, concerning the effigy of the 
crusader which lay on the tomb by the church 
altar. As it was the only monument of the kind 
in that part of the country, it had always been 
regarded with feelings of superstition by the 
goodwives of the village. It was said to get 
up from the tomb and walk the rounds of the 
churchyard in stormy nights, particularly when it 
thundered ; and one old woman, whose cottage 

L 



146 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 



bordered on the churchyard, had seen it, through 
the windows of the church, when the moon shone, 
slowly pacing up and down the aisles. It was 
the belief that some wrong had been left unre- 
dressed by the deceased, or some treasure hidden, 
which kept the spirit in a state of trouble and 
restlessness. Some talked of gold and jewels 




THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 147 

buried in the tomb, over which the spectre kept 
watch ; and there was a story current of a sexton 
in old times who endeavoured to break his way 
to the coffin at night ; but just as he reached it, 
received a violent blow from the marble hand 
of the effigy, which stretched him senseless on 
the pavement. These tales were often laughed 
at by some of the sturdier among the rustics, 
yet when night came on, there were many of the 
stoutest unbelievers that were shy of venturing 
alone in the footpath that led across the church- 
yard. 

From these and other anecdotes that followed, 
the crusader appeared to be the favourite hero 
of ghost stories throughout the vicinity. His 
picture, which hung up in the hall, was thought 
by the servants to have something supernatural 
about it ; for they remarked that, in whatever 
part of the hall you went, the eyes of the warrior 
were still fixed on you. The old porter's wife, 
too, at the lodge, who had been born and brought 



148 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 



up in the family, and was a great gossip among 
the maid-servants, affirmed, that in her young 
days she had often heard say, that on Midsummer 
eve, when it is well known all kinds of ghosts, 
goblins, and fairies become visible and walk 
abroad, the crusader used to mount his horse, 




THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 149 

come down from his picture, ride about the house, 
down the avenue, and so to the church to visit 
the tomb ; on which occasion the church-door 
most civilly swung open of itself: not that he 
needed it ; for he rode through closed gates and 
even stone walls, and had been seen by one of 
the dairymaids to pass between two bars of the 
great park gate, making himself as thin as a 
sheet of paper. 

All these superstitions I found had been very 
much countenanced by the Squire, who, though 
not superstitious himself, was very fond of seeing 
others so. He listened to every goblin tale of 
the neighbouring gossips with infinite gravity, 
and held the porter's wife in high favour on 
account of her talent for the marvellous. He 
was himself a great reader of old legends and 
romances, and often lamented that he could not 
believe in them ; for a superstitious person, he 
thought, must live in a kind of fairyland. 

Whilst we were all attention to the parson's 



150 THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 

stories, our ears were suddenly assailed by a burst 
of heterogeneous sounds from the hall, in which 
was mingled something like the clang of rude 
minstrelsy, with the uproar of many small voices 
and girlish laughter. The door suddenly flew 
open, and a train came trooping into the room, 
that might almost have been mistaken for the 
breaking up of the court of Fairy. That inde- 
fatigable spirit, Master Simon, in the faithful 
discharge of his duties as lord of misrule, had 
conceived the idea of a Christmas mummery, 
or masquing ; and having called in to his assist- 
ance the Oxonian and the young officer, who 
were equally ripe for anything that should occa- 
sion romping and merriment, they had carried 
it into instant effect. The old housekeeper had 
been consulted ; the antique clothes-presses and 
wardrobes rummaged and made to yield up the 
relics of finery that had not seen the light 
for several generations ; the younger part of the 
company had been privately convened from the 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 



151 



parlour and hall, and the whole had been be- 
dizened out, into 
a burlesque imi- 
tation of an an- 
tique masque/" 

Master Simon 
led the van, as 
'Ancient Christ- 
mas," quaintly 
apparelled in a 
ruff, a short cloak, 
which had very 
much the aspect 
of one of the old 
housekeeper's 
petticoats, and a 
hat that might 
have served for 
a village steeple, 
and must indubitably have figured in the days of 

* See Note J. 




152 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 



the Covenanters. From under this his nose 

curved boldly forth, flushed 
with a frost-bitten bloom, 
that seemed the very trophy 
of a December blast. He 
was accompanied by the 
blue-eyed romp, dished up 
as " Dame Mince-Pie," in 
the venerable 
magnificence of 
faded brocade, 
long stomacher, 
peaked hat, and 
high-heeled 
shoes. The 
young officer ap- 
peared as Robin 
Hood, in a sport- 
ing dress of Ken- 
dal green, and a foraging cap, with a gold tassel. 
The costume, to be sure, did not bear testi- 





" Tne rest of the train had boea metamorphosed in various ways." PAGE^S. ,j 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 



153 



mony to deep research, 
and there was an evident 
eye to the picturesque, 
natural to a young gallant 
in the presence of his 
mistress. The fair Julia 
hung on his arm in a 
pretty rustic dress, as 
" Maid Marian." The 
rest of the train had been 
metamorphosed in various 
ways ; the girls trussed up 
in the finery of the ancient 
belles of the Bracebridge 
line, and the striplings be- 
whiskered with burnt cork, 
and gravely clad in broad 
skirts, hangingsleeves, and 
full-bottomed wigs, to re- 
present the characters of 
Roast Beef, Plum Pud- 




154 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 




ding, and other wor- 
thies celebrated in an- 
cient maskings. The 
whole was under the 
control of the Oxoni- 
an, in the appropriate 
character of Misrule ; 
and I observed that 
he exercised rather 
a mischievous sway 
with his wand over 
the smaller person- 
ages of the pageant. 

The irruption of 
this motley crew, with 
beat of drum, accord- 
ing to ancient custom, 
was the consumma- 
tion of uproar and 
merriment. Master 
Simon covered him- 






THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 



155 



self with glory by the stateliness with which, as 
Ancient Christmas, he walked a minuet with the 
peerless, though giggling, Dame Mince-Pie. It 
was followed by a dance of all the characters, 
which, from its medley of costumes, seemed as 
though the old family portraits had skipped down 
from their frames to join in 
the sport. Different centu- 
ries were figuring at cross 
hands and right and left ; the 
dark ages were cutting pirou- 
ettes and rigadoons ; and the 
days of Queen Bess jigging 
merrily down the middle, 
through a line of succeeding 
generations. 

The worthy Squire con- 
templated these fantastic 
sports, and this resurrection 
of his old wardrobe, with the 
simple relish of childish de- 




156 THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 

light. He stood chuckling and rubbing his hands, 
and scarcely hearing a word the parson said, not- 
withstanding that the latter was discoursing most 
authentically on the ancient and stately dance at 
the Paon, or Peacock, from which he conceived 
the minuet to be derived.^ For my part, I was in 
a continual excitement, from the varied scenes of 
whim and innocent gaiety passing before me. It 
was inspiring to see wild-eyed frolic and warm- 
hearted hospitality breaking out from among 
the chills and glooms of winter, and old age 
throwing off his apathy, and catching once more 
the freshness of youthful enjoyment. I felt also 
an interest in the scene, from the consideration 
that these fleeting customs were posting fast into 
oblivion, and that this was, perhaps, the only 
family in England in which the whole of them 
were still punctiliously observed. There was a 
quaintness, too, mingled with all this revelry, 
that gave it a peculiar zest ; it was suited to 

* See Note K. 




THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 157 

the time and place ; and as the old Manor 
House almost reeled with mirth and wassail, 
it seemed echoing back the joviality of long- 
departed years. 




But enough of Christmas and its gambols ; it 
is time for me to pause in this garrulity. Me- 



158 THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 

thinks I hear the questions askecl by my graver 
readers, " To what purpose is all this ? how is 
the world to be made wiser by this talk ?" Alas ! 
is there not wisdom enough extant for the in- 
struction of the world ? And if not, are there 
not thousands of abler pens labouring for its 
improvement ? It is so much pleasanter to please 
than to instruct to play the companion rather 
than the preceptor. 

What, after all, is the mite of wisdom that I 
could throw into the mass of knowledge ? or how 
am I sure that my sagest deductions may be safe 
guides for the opinions of others ? But in writing 
to amuse, if I fail, the only evil is my own dis- 
appointment. If, however, I can by any lucky 
chance, in these days of evil, rub out one wrinkle 
from the brow of care, or beguile the heavy 
heart of one moment of sorrow ; if I can now 
and then penetrate through the gathering film 
of misanthropy, prompt a benevolent view of 
human nature, and make my reader more in 



THE CHRISTMAS DINNER 



159 



good humour with his fellow-beings and himself, 
surely, surely, I shall not then have written 
entirely in vain. 




NOTES 

NOTE A, p. 53. 

THE mistletoe is still hung up in farm-houses and kitchens at 
Christmas ; and the young men have the privilege of kissing the 
girls under it, plucking each time a berry from the bush. When 
the berries are all plucked, the privilege ceases. 

NOTE B, p. 58. 

The Yide-clog is a great log of wood, sometimes the root of a 
tree, brought into the house with great ceremony, on Christmas 
eve, laid in the fireplace, and lighted with the brand of last year's 
clog. While it lasted there was great drinking, singing, and telling 
of tales. Sometimes it was accompanied by Christmas candles, 
but in the cottages the only light was from the ruddy blaze of the 
great wood fire. The Yule-clog was to burn all night ; if it went 
out, it was considered a sign of ill luck. 

Herrick mentions it in one of his songs : 

" Come, bring with a noise 

My merrie, merrie boyes, 
The Christmas log to the firing : 

While my good dame, she 

Bids ye all be free, 
And drink to your hearts' desiring." 

The Yule-clog is still burnt in many farm-houses and kitchens 
M 



162 NOTES 

in England, particularly in the north, and there are several super- 
stitions connected with it among the peasantry. If a squinting 
person come to the house while it is burning, or a person bare- 
footed, it is considered an ill omen. The brand remaining from 
the Yule-clog is carefully put away to light the next year's Christ- 
mas fire. 

NOTE C, p. 102. 

From the " Flying Eagle," a small Gazette, published Decem- 
ber 24, 1652 : " The House spent much time this day about the 
business of the Navy, for settling the affairs at sea ; and before 
they rose, were presented with a terrible remonstrance against 
Christmas day, grounded upon divine Scriptures, 2 Cor. v. 1 6 ; 
i Cor. xv. 14, 17; and in honour of the Lord's Day, grounded upon 
these Scriptures, John xx. I ; Rev. i. 10; Psalm cxviii. 24; Lev. 
xxiii. 7, 1 1 ; Mark xvi. 8 ; Psalm Ixxxiv. 10, in which Christmas is 
called Anti-Christ's masse, and those Mass-mongers and Papists 
who observe it, etc. In consequence of which Parliament spent 
some time in consultation about the abolition of Christmas day, 
passed orders to that effect, and resolved to sit on the following 
day, which was commonly called Christmas day." 



NOTE D, p. 1 08. 

" An English gentleman at the opening of the great day, i.e. on 
Christmas day in the morning, had all his tenants and neighbours 
enter his hall by daybreak. The strong beer was broached, and 
the black jacks went plentifully about with toast, sugar, nutmeg, 
and good Cheshire cheese. The hackin (the great sausage) must 



NOTES 163 

be boiled by daybreak, or else two young men must take the 
maiden (i.e. the cook) by the arms and run her round the market- 
place till she is shamed of her laziness." Round about our Sea- 
Coal Fire. 

NOTE E, p. 129. 

The old ceremony of serving up the boar's head on Christmas 
day is still observed in the hall of Queen's College, Oxford. I was 
favoured by the parson with a copy of the carol as now sung, and 
as it may be acceptable to such of my readers as are curious in 
these grave and learned matters, I give it entire. 

" The boar's head in hand bear I, 
Bedeck'd with bays and rosemary ; 
And I pray you, my masters, be merry, 
Quot estis in convivio. 
Caput apri defero 
Reddens laudes Domino. 

The boar's head, as I understand, 
Is the rarest dish in all this land, 
Which thus bedeck'd with a gay garland 
Let us servire cantico. 
Caput apri defero, etc. 

Our steward hath provided this 
In honour of the King of Bliss, 
Which on this day to be served is 
In Reginensi Atrio. 
Caput apri defero," 

Etc. etc. etc. 



164 NOTES 

NOTE F, p. 131. 

The peacock was anciently in great demand for stately enter- 
tainments. Sometimes it was made into a pie, at one end of which 
the head appeared above the crust in all its plumage, with the beak 
richly gilt ; at the other end the tail was displayed. Such pies 
were served up at the solemn banquets of chivalry, when Knights- 
errant pledged themselves to undertake any perilous enterprise ; 
whence came the ancient oath, used by Justice Shallow, "by cock 
and pie." 

The peacock was also an important dish for the Christmas 
feast ; and Massinger, in his City Madam, gives some idea of the 
extravagance with which this, as well as other dishes, was prepared 
for the gorgeous revels of the olden times : 

1 ' Men may talk of country Christmasses, 

Their thirty pound butter'd eggs, their pies of carps' tongues : 
Their pheasants drench'd with ambergris ; the carcases of three fat 
wethers bruised for gravy, to make sauce for a single peacock ! " 

NOTE G, p. 133. 

The Wassail Bowl was sometimes composed of ale instead of 
wine ; with nutmeg, sugar, toast, ginger, and roasted crabs ; in this 
way the nut-brown beverage is still prepared in some old families, 
and round the hearths of substantial farmers at Christmas. It 
is also called Lambs' Wool, and is celebrated by Herrick in his 
"Twelfth Night:" 

" Next crowne the bowle full 

With gentle Lambs' Wool, 
Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger, 

With store of ale too ; 

And thus ye must doe 
To make the Wassaile a swinger. " 



NOTES 165 

NOTE H, p. 134. 

" The custom of drinking out of the same cup gave place to 
each having his cup. When the steward came to the doore with 
the Wassel, he was to cry three times, Wassel, Wassel, Wassel, 
and then the chappel (chaplain) was to answer with a song. 
ARCH^EOLOGIA. 

NOTE I, p. 142. 

"At Christmasse there was in the Kinge's house, wheresoever 
hee was lodged, a lorde of misrule, or mayster of merry disportes ; 
and the like had ye in the house of every nobleman of honor, or 
good worshippe, were he spirituall or temporall." STOW. 

NOTE J, p. 151. 

Maskings or mummeries were favourite sports at Christmas in 
old times ; and the wardrobes at halls and manor-houses were 
often laid under contribution to furnish dresses and fantastic dis- 
guisings. I strongly suspect Master Simon to have taken the idea 
of his from Ben Jonson's Masque of Christmas. 

NOTE K, p. 156. 

Sir John Hawkins, speaking of the dance called the Pavon, 
from pavo, a peacock, says, " It is a grave and majestic dance ; the 
method of dancing it anciently was by gentlemen dressed with 
caps and swords, by those of the long robe in their gowns, by the 
peers in their mantles, and by the ladies in gowns with long trains, 
the motion whereof, in dancing, resembled that of a peacock." 
History of Music. 



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